Colleen Flynn Thapalia, director of Graduate Admissions at The College of Saint Rose, offers advice on everything related to letters of recommendation. “If I left anything out,” notes Colleen, “I invite readers to post their questions in the comments section, below. That way, we can give you all of the information you need to put together the best possible application.”
Who should I ask to be my recommenders?
Your letters of recommendation should come from people who are enthusiastically committed to your success and achievement. All programs at Saint Rose require two letters of recommendation (except School Psychology, which requires three). Ideally, the recommendations will address your academic potential and your professional disposition. So, my advice is to find one recommender to focus on your scholarly ability (research, writing, etc.) and one to focus on how your personality matches with the discipline you are seeking to study. Any balance of previous professors, supervisors, and colleagues can work, as long as the recommendations are positive, informative, and well written.
Are there any people I should not ask?
Never ask family members for recommendations, even if they have supervised your work in a family business. Also, letters from prominent people, such as political office holders, are only effective if they know you and your abilities from personal experience.
How should I ask?
Make sure your recommenders know why you have selected them. Ask in person or by phone, if possible, rather than by email. Inform the recommender about the program you are applying to and how it fits into your future plans.
When I write letters of recommendation for former students or colleagues, I always ask for three things (in addition to the instructions for how to submit my letter):
- Answers to these questions: What is one unique thing that I know about you (the student) that no other potential recommender knows? What does a letter from me add that otherwise would be missing from your application?
- A copy of your resume: This allows me to have all details handy, with correct dates and spellings.
- A copy of your statement of purpose: This allows me to craft a letter that supports your goals.
What should I do if the recommender asks me to write the recommendation and he will sign it?
Thank the person and move on. Find another recommender. Remember, your goal is to identify people who are your biggest supporters, who will take the time to write a really persuasive letter.
What should I do if the person says she is pretty busy? Should I ask her to do the letter anyway?
Do not push someone to be a recommender. The recommendation is likely to lack enthusiasm, details or other crucial elements. If someone hesitates to accept your invitation to write a recommendation, you need to find someone else.
Can Graduate Admissions give me advice on recommenders?
Yes, we can provide general guidance on selecting recommenders who are relevant to your intended program of study. Someone applying to do an MBA may have slightly different needs than someone applying for a degree in Counseling. The team in Graduate Admissions can talk with you about this, and any other application questions you may have. Call 518-454-5143 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch with a Graduate Admissions representative.