Letters of Recommendation
Most graduate programs require students to submit 1 to 3 letters of recommendation. At least 1 should come from a professor who knows you well. This requires you to plan ahead so, over the course of your time at Bates, make sure that you get to know at least 1 professor outside of the classroom. You may do this by attending office hours, attending lectures, becoming a teaching assistant, and/or engaging in independent research or other activities.
Additional letters may come from managers/supervisors, colleagues, and/or others who know you well professionally and personally.
A good letter of recommendation will let the program know not only about your scholarly aptitude but your outside interests and character traits as well. It should be apparent that your professor knows you as more than just the student who got an “A” on their final exam. They should be able to compare you not just to other students in their courses, but to all students at Bates, or potentially to all students they have taught in their career. The same holds true for your other recommenders.
Traits that recommenders 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 the program, including but not limited to: ability to work independently, ability to collaborate with others, written and verbal communication skills, intellectual ability, integrity, judgment, leadership, commitment to a particular career, maturity, motivation, organizational skills, interpersonal skills, ability to receive criticism.
When you ask for a letter: Do it in person. Make an appointment. Bring your resume and personal statement (if finished) with you. Let your recommender know why you are applying to the program and why you are pursuing the degree. The best time to ask would be the spring or early in the summer before you plan to apply. That will give your recommender adequate time to write a thoughtful letter. It also demonstrates your respect for their time and conveys that you are planning ahead and taking the task of applying seriously.
Ask your desired recommender if they feel they would be able to write a strong recommendation for you. If not, thank them gracefully and move on to another. If yes, be sure to provide the recipients’ names and addresses as well as addressed envelopes with the proper postage (if letters need to be physically sent — forever stamps are good if postage rates are likely to change soon). You should express your thanks to your recommenders after you submit your applications, and update them with the outcomes of your applications.
NOTE: If you are planning to apply after you have graduated from Bates, make sure that you stay in touch with faculty members who will likely write letters of recommendations for you. If you cannot ask in person, set up a phone or video appointment. Supply a resume and a general statement on what you have been doing since Bates in advance of the appointment. Of course, the more actively you stay in communication with faculty members, the more comfortable they will likely be to write for you.
Your recommenders will most likely be instructed to send their letters directly to the programs and you may be asked to waive your right to view the recommendation. Programs vary in their requirements for transmission: Some will require the recommender to upload the recommendation online. Others will require that it be sent by regular mail, usually with a cover form that must be printed from the program’s website.
NOTE: If you are not planning to use your letters immediately (e.g., waiting to apply, obtaining a letter from a professor who may be going on sabbatical or leaving Bates), there are various credential management services, such as Interfolio, available to Bates College students and alumni.