A letter of recommendation is one of the key components of your application. Since a letter of recommendation provides your characteristics through someone else’s point of view, it is important to select an individual who knows you well. I am going to outline who to approach, what you should do, and when you should ask your references.
Who should I approach?
Approaching a professor from your first year’s class that you took with 600 students would likely end up with a generic reference letter. Just because you got an A+ in a class is not a great reason to approach a particular referee. You would want to approach professors and lecturers that you had for smaller scaled classes such as seminar or research methods courses. If you were volunteering or working at a research laboratory and had the chance to interact with your principal investigator, that would be a great person to approach as well. A research supervisor you had for your thesis would be a perfect person to ask for a reference because they are familiar with your academic work and spent enough time with you to know who you are as a person.
Professional reference can be from your volunteer or work place. Although it is really important to show how much of a hard worker you are, you also would want to approach a person who is working in a field that is relevant to the program that you are applying to.
What should I do?
First, you would need to ask them if they would like to be your reference for your applications. Explain why you think they are suitable for this process and provide them with a list of programs that you are planning on applying to, along with their application deadlines. After you get their consent, you would then need to provide detailed instructions, your resume/CV, and your statement of purpose. The resume and statement of purpose are very important because your references can be familiarized with what you’ve done and why you would like to pursue a graduate degree. Also, it is important to indicate whether the reference letters need to be submitted online or offline. It would be a good idea to send the necessary materials in a single email because your reference would have easy access to your information when it is time for them to write you a glowing reference.
When should I approach them?
Sooner the better! You would want to give them at least 3 weeks so that they can allocate time to write you a thoughtful and detailed letter. You should also keep in mind that other people will be asking your professor or volunteer coordinator for reference letters as well. Application period is an overwhelming time for applicants as well as the referees so it is better for you to approach them earlier than later. Make sure to remind them few days before the application deadline so they do not forget!
Although most of you are already aware of what to do with your application, I thought it was important for me to outline a clear guideline for perspective students. Whether you are working or still in school, working on an application can be an overwhelming experience! It is nice to have a checklist and guidelines you can refer to as you go through this process. I hope this helps.
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