Letters of Recommendation
Most graduate programs require students to submit one to three letters of recommendation. At least one should come from a professor who knows you well. This requires you to plan ahead and, over the course of your four years at Bates, make sure that you get to know a professor outside of the classroom. You may do this by attending office hours, attending lectures, joining a student organization which the professor advises or through independent research or other activities.
A good letter of recommendation will let the school know not only about your scholarly aptitude, but your outside interests and character traits as well. It should be apparent that the letter writer knows you as more than just the student who got an “A” on the professor’s final exam. In addition, the professor should be able to compare you not just to other students in the course, but at Bates, or, the population of all the students the professor has taught in her career.
Traits that letter writers may want to comment on are those that are helpful to the admissions committee in deciding whether you have what it takes to succeed in their academic program: ability to work independently, ability to collaborate with others, written and verbal communication skills, intellectual ability, integrity, judgment, leadership, commitment to a particular career field, maturity, motivation, organizational skills, interpersonal skills, ability to receive criticism.
When you ask: do it in person. Make an appointment. Bring your resume and personal statement with you, if it is finished. Let the professor know why you are applying to a particular program and why you want to pursue the degree. The best time to ask would be spring or early summer before you plan to apply. That will give the professor time to thoughtfully write a letter. It also demonstrates your respect for their time and that you are planning ahead and taking the task of applying seriously. Ask the professor if he feels he would be able to write a strong recommendation for you. Be sure to provide the recipient’s name and address as well as addressed envelopes with the proper postage. Of course, you should express your thanks to your references. Make sure you let all of your letter writers know the outcome of your applications.
Your references will most likely be instructed to send their recommendation directly to the graduate school and you may be asked to waive your right to view the recommendation. Schools vary on their requirements for transmission: some will require the recommender to upload the recommendation online and others require that it be sent by regular mail, usually with a cover form that must be printed from the school’s website.
If you are not planning to use your letter immediately (waiting to apply, obtaining a letter from a professor who may be leaving campus), there are various credential management services available to Bates College students and alumni. Interfolio, found at www.interfolio.com provides electronic delivery of credentials and can even maintain letters confidentially. The cost is $39 for a 3-year membership.