FAQs: Letters of Recommendation

Who should I ask to write my letters of recommendation?

We prefer to see at least one letter of recommendation from a professor, lecturer, or teaching assistant who has had significant exposure to your academic work. Choose your recommenders carefully. Ask recommenders who will have positive things to say about you as a student, and who know your work product and skill set well enough to write a detailed, substantive letter.

What should I avoid in choosing recommenders?

Do not ask a politician, public figure, judge, or alumnus based on their name and title alone. You do not need a letter from an attorney. Choosing a recommender solely on that basis usually does not result in a helpful recommendation. The most important thing about a recommendation is the content, not the title or stature of the writer. We also encourage you to avoid submitting recommendations from family members or friends.    

What should my letters of recommendation say?

Your recommendations should describe your academic qualifications, intellectual ability, and strengths as a student or professional. This includes information about your intellectual curiosity, research and writing ability, analytical skills, motivation, work ethic, and capacity to think critically and challenge yourself. Personal characteristics such as maturity, professionalism, leadership potential, and ability to work with others are also relevant.

What makes some letters of recommendation stand out? 

The most helpful letters discuss the qualities described above and contain specific and substantive discussion of your abilities as a student. The Admissions Committee often finds a discussion of particular examples of your work, possibly a research project or substantial piece of writing, very helpful. Qualitative comparisons to your peers and illustrative anecdotes can also be quite useful.

May I ask my employer to write a recommendation?

You are welcome to ask your employer for a recommendation, particularly if you have been out of school for a while. Please ask your recommender to speak to academic qualifications to the extent possible. If you are still in undergrad and have strong faculty letters, it is not necessary to add a letter from your employment or internship unless it adds something additional to your file.

How many letters of recommendation should I submit?

The Admissions Committee requires two recommendations but will accept up to four. Whether you submit more than two depends on the content of the letters. If your additional recommendations provide an additional perspective to your file, they can be a significant contribution to your application. Submitting more than two letters alone will not give your application a boost. If additional letters would be redundant, it is completely acceptable to submit just two letters.