Letters of Recommendation

Remember to give each person who agrees to write a letter a summary of your G.P.A., test scores, courses taken, career goals, relevant work experience, job responsibilities, interests, and the deadline for each program. Provide envelopes (addressed and stamped) for each recommendation.

Waiver of right of access:

Very important: you should sign Yes, you do waive. Favorable comments in the LOR are more convincing if you sign the waiver. There is a common suspicion that non-waived letters (which might be seen by the applicant) are less objective and tilted in favor of the applicant.

Ratings:

Note the various dimensions given for rating an applicant. Communications skills and motivation are important for all graduate programs. Would the people who write your letters have a good basis to evaluate your creativity, motivation, or potential?

If you have not done anything outside a large classroom setting, the writer might not know you well enough to rate these items accurately. There would be no problem if you have taken seminars, independent readings, or research courses, and had experience in a mental health facility or research lab. Junior concentrators should plan their remaining semesters with an eye toward providing material for future LOR's.

Recommendations:

Recommendations are usually stated precisely enough to reflect the writer's best assessment. The strength of the recommendation also reflects how well the applicant matches that particular school and program. You might well receive a very strong recommendation for a good program, but a slightly more restrained one for a top, highly demanding program.

Evaluation or letter:

Here is an opportunity for the writer to point out special strengths or to place weaknesses into context. A common practice is to write a basic letter and then attach it (with appropriate modifications) to any rating form provided by the school. The writer fills in ratings and other information on any required forms, but the letter serves in place of an evaluation written on the form. 

A very important part of the evaluation statement describes how well and in what context the writer knows the applicant. The statement should tell more than is visible in the transcript. The best letters make it clear that the writer knows the applicant well and has good reasons for strongly supporting the application.

Is there anything special about you that distinguishes you from the other applicants? Does the letter writer know about special skills, valuable background, evidence of interest, or other elements that would make you stand out from the crowd?