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Requesting a letter of recommendation for graduate school

July 13, 2021
Two women discussing a letter of recommendation

Nearly every program you apply to will require you to provide at least one letter of recommendation for graduate school. For many, this can be one of the more stressful parts of the application process, but it does not need to be if you plan ahead.

First, it is critical to understand why a graduate school letter of recommendation is important. While your resume and personal statement gives an admissions committee insight into your background and your goals, a graduate school letter of recommendation gives us the chance to see how others see you. Chances are you may not be aware of or able to articulate all of your professional strengths, so this is an opportunity to see a different side of your expertise and how you interact with others. Maybe you completed a project on an incredibly tight deadline, or you have a track record of staying level-headed in challenging situations. Perhaps you took the extra step when interacting with a difficult client. A manager or colleague usually recognizes that work ethic and qualifications and can highlight them for the admissions committee.

Below, learn more about the key steps to requesting a letter of recommendation for graduate school from Marquette University.

Choose someone who knows you.

When deciding who to ask for a graduate school letter of recommendation, it is important to consider what they can say about you. It is a good idea to find someone who can highlight your commitment and accomplishments, but who also knows you well enough to speak to your career goals. That is why it is important that they know about the program you are applying to and what it will ask of you. For example, if you are applying to our online master’s in clinical mental health counseling, you might prefer a reference who can highlight your interpersonal skills, rather than a past math professor.

Great people to consider are current or past professors, colleagues, managers and supervisors from volunteer experiences. What’s important is that they can share some of your past accomplishments, such as a group project you led or contributed significantly to, an event you coordinated, or additional efforts you led.

Be considerate when making a request.

After you have identified those that you would like to write on your behalf, the next step is reaching out. A phone call or email is fine (a text message is appropriate only if you have a casual relationship or close friendship). It is important to make this ask as soon as possible. Chances are your references work full time, have families and other personal commitments, so try not to spring a letter of recommendation on them last minute. Not giving them advanced warning can also mean that you might have to rely on your second choice to provide your letter: Most professionals will decline writing a letter if they don’t feel like they have enough time to give you a thoughtful recommendation.

If the university asks that you provide the contact information so they can make the request themselves, you still need to ask your letter writers in advance. They may not recognize the email or they might be annoyed that you expect them to be available to help out. It is also important to be ready to answer some questions from your letter writers as well, which leads us to the next point.

Give them the details.

It’s important to give your letter writers notice that they will be asked to submit a recommendation. While some schools may ask that you provide these letters, most will ask that they send their recommendations directly to the admissions office or committee. That’s why it is critical to give your writers notice and be sure to specify which email address you provided the admissions committee.

Many schools ask letter writers to touch on certain points of your experience and skill sets. For example in our online master’s in clinical mental health counseling, Marquette University asks references to speak to how you will be successful in a graduate school program, why you are suited for the counseling profession and what they feel are your personal strengths and limitations.

Accomplish more with Marquette University

When you apply to the online master’s in clinical mental health counseling at Marquette University, you will be joining a program dedicated to preparing the next generation of counselors and community advocates. Here, you will develop a foundation in the biological, psychological, social and cultural lenses that impact their approach to counseling. You can choose to pursue an additional child and adolescent counseling specialization to help transform the lives of young people and their families.

By preparing students to work with diverse groups and communities, we are setting students up for impactful careers, so a critical part of our curriculum is emphasizing how counselors can be an advocate for mental health care and underserved communities. Our online coursework is as rigorous as our on-campus, CACREP-accredited clinical mental health counseling program. In 2019, the pass rate for our graduates taking the National Counselor Examination (NCE) examination was 100 percent. Learn more about how our program prepares you for your exam and your career, and start your application today.