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Graduate School Letter of Recommendation Template – with Samples

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A recommendation letter for graduate school is a written endorsement of a graduate school candidate that is submitted with the application. Recommendations should be written by professional or academic contacts who really know the applicant and can offer a credible perspective. The letter should be brief and positive, and it should use specific examples when possible.

Table of Contents

What to Include

The point with this letter is not simply to sing the applicant’s praises. Everyone has good qualities, but only some are cut out for graduate school. The recommendation should make an argument for why the aspiring student will be successful in the targeted program. Also include:

  • An explanation of how the recommender knows the applicant
  • A case for why the applicant will be successful in graduate studies
  • Specific examples that illustrate the applicant’s readiness for graduate studies

Whenever possible, claims should be supported by specific examples. It is easy to state that someone is intelligent or conscientious, but more meaningful to show the strength of an applicant through anecdotes from the workplace or classroom.

Who to Select?

Applicants will need 2 to 4 letters of recommendation to support their graduate school application. The best choices for writing these letters will be professors, supervisors, mentors, managers, and employers of the candidate. The person writing the letter should be able to draw upon a reasonably long relationship to illustrate the applicant’s aptitudes, work habits, and personal character.

A professor or mentor can easily assess the candidate’s academic qualities and scholastic temperament, while a manager or employer may be able to reference a long working relationship to vouch for their character.

How to Write (Format)

A graduate school letter of recommendation should fill at least an entire page (usually 400 – 600 words) and contain a letterhead, an introduction, up to 4 body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Letterhead

The following information pertaining to the letter’s author should be included at the top left-hand corner of the page:

  1. Date of Writing
  2. Full Name
  3. Title
  4. School Name
  5. Street Address
  6. City, State, Zip Code
  7. Preferred Contact (optional)

Introduction

The introduction simply states who is writing the letter to whom, and who the candidate is that the author is writing on behalf of. This paragraph only needs to be 2-4 sentences in length.

Example #1

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am writing to you in support of Gary Yamamoto and his desire to attend the Dartmouth University for the Cellular Biology masters program. Every year, I receive countless requests to write these types of letters, but it is only on behalf of a handful of remarkable students that I take the trouble. I believe whole-heartedly that only those student’s who are most deserving should have a place in any given program, and Mr. Yamamoto is a very promising Biology student.

In this example a university professor is writing on behalf of a student and they emphasize that they only recommend students who are suitable candidates for their program of choice. By insisting that they do not take the matter of submitting a letter of recommendation lightly, they have made their recommendation more convincing.

Example #2

To Whom It May Concern:

It is with great privilege that I write to you in recommendation of Francine Charles for the Art History graduate school program. Francine has worked for me at The Word, a book store located near the McGill campus, for the better part of the past three years and I have found her to be both a kind and hard-working individual. Her knowledge of and passion for art history stretches across the millennia and includes many indigenous cultures.

This sample is written from the point-of-view of a work manager and includes the period of time in which the candidate has worked with this employer, as well as some of their positive attributes. Because this information is included in the introduction it will necessitate that more personal reflections and specific examples be included in the body of the letter.

Relationship to the Candidate

Next, the author will need to describe the context in which they know the student, and for how long. Describing the length of time that the author has known the student and the nature of their relationship will add weight to the attestations of the student’s positive attributes that follow this section. In terms of length, this paragraph should be composed of 3-6 straightforward sentences.

Example #1

During the Fall/Winter Semesters of 2015 and 2016, I had the pleasure of having Mr. Yamamoto in my Evolutionary Biology and Microbiology 1 classes. Although my class sizes are quite large, I always make a point of paying close attention to students who submit exemplary work. Gary’s work has always been meticulous and well-organized, and most importantly, his work and test results but him in the top percentile in his program. In comparison with the majority of his peers, I can say with confidence that Mr. Yamamoto is a remarkable student who will bring great value to any university that he chooses to attend.

Here, a professor uses to comparison and personal observations to highlight that the candidate is an outstanding student. They also detail the length of time that they have known the student.

Example #2

I first met Jacinthe four years ago when she came to me for advisory counselling. I remember being impressed by her chirpy enthusiasm and the importance that she placed on her education. Where most first year students are content to have a straight-forward schedule of first year courses, Jacinthe wanted to make sure that her course schedule would favor her ability to excel and give her the most opportunities for future studies. These important early choices helped Jacinthe to be on the Dean’s list three years in a row and to allow her to pursue extra-curricular interests in sports and student governance.

The author in this example describes their first meeting with the student. By doing this, they are saying that the student is memorable, while at same time specifying how long they have known the student. They emphasize the student’s academic performance and provide positive examples of the candidate’s personal attributes (to be expanded on in the next section).

Candidate’s Attributes

After describing the author’s relationship to the student, the next paragraph(s) will illustrate the student’s competencies and positive attributes in what will provide the main body of the letter. This section should include positive descriptions of the student’s work habits, character, and sense of responsibility. Only one paragraph is necessary for this section of the letter, however it could run up to 3 paragraphs in length depending how much detail the author chooses to include.

Example #1

Though Cory has consistently shown his skill, ingenuity, and willingness to work, the best example of his intelligence shone through when I asked him to take a stock inventory of all materials in the building. In the production of books and other supplies, we have a wide variety of paper stocks, inks, and other materials. Instead of simply counting every item and returning it to its place of origin, he would first remove all of the items and rearrange the shelves and containers in such a way that they would be easier to count in the future. Much to my amazement, Cory was able to take the entire inventory before the day was through, leaving the work area organized for easier workflow and counting. This demonstrates the way in which Cory is always prepared to exceed expectations, to work quickly and efficiently, and to take the initiative when necessary.

In the above example, an employer uses a specific instance to illustrate the candidate’s positive qualities. It describes how the applicant exceeded the employer’s expectations and used their problem-solving skills in performing a task.

Example #2

Gary has been very helpful in the microbiology lab; with his huge enthusiasm and passion for the subject, he has made the past year more enjoyable for me, personally. Volunteering his free time, he helped me during lab experiments for second year students and, in return, I have worked closely with him on his school projects. To offer help and to know how to ask for it are, I believe, important skills when working within the scientific community and specifically lab situations.

I was most impressed, when Gary proposed that we formulate an experiment for the students investigating the effects of ultraviolet light on the fermentation rate of yeast. He was responsible for assembling the necessary materials, and the class experiment was a total success.

As his school records will attest, Mr. Yamamoto’s work is always of the highest caliber. I would say that his academic gifts, coupled with his ability to work in groups and to perform in a competitive environment make him the perfect candidate for a Microbiology graduate program.

This longer example has a lab supervisor using multiple examples to demonstrate the candidate’s positive character, academic talent, school involvement, and ability to perform within their chosen field. By showing their understanding of the demands of a given field of study, their recommendation will be taken more seriously.

Conclusion

The concluding paragraph should summarize and reaffirm the author’s recommendation for the applicant and it should include a preferred method of contact. This paragraph only needs to be 2-4 sentences in length. The author will also need to hand sign their signature beneath the conclusion in order to authenticate the letter.

Example #1

It is my belief that this young man will continue to excel and flourish in the field of Microbiology and specifically in experimental lab work. Gary Yamamoto is a highly deserving candidate and I would be happy to provide more information should you require it. Feel free to contact me by email at homily@jbuniversity.com.

Sincerely,

Mr. Homily

In this simple example, a professor describes the continuous improvement that the candidate has shown and states their belief that the student will flourish in the indicated graduate program. They have also included their preferred method of contact in the body of their concluding paragraph.

Example #2

Although we are all deeply disappointed to lose Melinda from our team, I support and highly recommend her for your graduate program. She is a real team player, a great person to be around, and a brilliant, hard-working person. I am confident that these qualities will lead her to success in everything that she pursues. If you need any more information, you can contact me at my work phone number that I’ve provided below.

Best Regards,

Frederick Jamieson
Senior Manager
Asterix & fils LLC

Here, we have an employer that concludes their letter by expressing the value that the candidate has brought to their team and has provided their preferred contact at the bottom of the page. If the author includes their contact information in the letterhead, then it will not be necessary for them to put it in the conclusion as well.

Sample 1

March 29th, 2017
Dr. John P. Williams
Psychology Professor at Chapman University
One University Drive, Orange, CA, 92866
jpwilliams@example.edu

To the Review Committee,

I am writing to you on behalf of Michael Drexler, one of the brightest and most promising pupils I’ve come across in my 27 years as a psychology professor here at Chapman University. Claremont Graduate University would certainly profit from Michael’s acceptance into their Master of Psychology program.

It’s hard for someone to stand out in a lecture hall filled with 100-300 students, but it didn’t take long for me to notice Michael. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching him in a number of psychology courses over the past 4 years and have worked with him on a smaller scale in my Advanced Behavior Therapy and Abnormal Psychology workshops. His participation is always welcome as he asks questions that are well thought out, proving he has a high level of comprehension but that he wants to delve even deeper into the more complex theories. I am reminded of myself during my time at the University of Frankfurt when I see Michael’s indisputable passion for psychology and all things related to the study of the human mind. He admitted to reading most of my research journal articles in his spare time and even my book on Cognitive Behavior Practice. We’ve discussed these readings, amongst others, at great length after class.

Michael is capable of understanding complex and advanced psychological concepts, and continues to push himself to improve. He is a sociable and gregarious individual who makes everyone around him feel welcome and important. Apart from his obvious enthusiasm for psychology, he manages to outshine his peers in other areas of his schooling as well. I’ve spoken to other professors on the subject of Michael’s remarkable writing skills and ability to articulate at a higher level than most college students.

My courses are designed to encourage students to push their academic limits and exercise critical thinking. Michael accepts every challenge thrown at him and loves pushing his mind to the next level of understanding. The best example is perhaps his most recent paper which displayed not only his admiration for psychology but an undeniable comprehension of the history of cognitive psychology and its impact on modern psychology. Michael wrote a perfectly structured, well thought out review of the relationship between behavioral and cognitive psychology. His writing is eloquent and captivating, using clear bias-free language that is presented in great detail without being overburdening. It’s obvious that he spends countless hours researching and is able to produce this evidence in a clear and concise manner. In my mind it’s very apparent that this young man will go on to write journals and books that will nurture the advancement of modern psychology.

It brings me joy to think that I have had the opportunity to help Michael on his path to a career in psychology and I look forward to following his progress in the years to come. I am aware of CGU’s long and distinguished history with Applied Cognitive Psychology, and it is without hesitation that I recommend Michael into this program. If accepted, Michael will undoubtedly impress all his professors with his intelligence and dedication to his studies. I am happy to provide you with more information on this admirable student, feel free to contact me through the email I have provided.

Sincerely,

Dr. John P Williams

sample 2

March 28th, 2017
Sam Irving, RA, AIA, LEED AP, PMP
Wright & Dalbin Architects, Inc.
2112 Murchison Drive, El Paso, TX, 79930
(915) 533-3777

To whom it may concern,

Antonio has been a full-time intern here at W&DA, Inc. for almost two years and has become a major asset to our team. When approached to write a recommendation letter to strengthen his application for the Master of Architecture program at Roger Williams University, I accepted without hesitation. As his mentor, Antonio has my full support in his postgraduate endeavors. He has the power to inspire those around him and his positive outlook on life should be a lesson to us all.

Antonio applied for the architectural intern position in 2015, along with several other graduates. It was quite apparent that he was the perfect candidate. He was the top student in all his classes and his portfolio included many impressive projects and innovative designs. Over the course of my time at W&D, there has been a revolving door of interns. But it is without reservation when I say that Antonio has been one of the most outstanding interns we’ve ever had. Starting an internship can be an intimidating experience, but Antonio completed this transition with ease. He brings a certain tenacity to the company that seems to light a spark under all of us. His ideas are always well thought out, and he is able to communicate with all the team members flawlessly. He has a knack for design and has an uncommonly creative mind. Working alongside Antonio has been a pleasure and anyone lucky enough to work with him will share the same feeling.

Antonio has an incredible understanding of construction means, methods, and techniques. Our clients are in disbelief when they find out that he is only 1 year out of college. The way he explains his ideas and the manner in which he goes about his work is similar to that of an architect with a decade of experience. He still has a lot to learn, as architecture is a field that is constantly changing while technology advances and new design techniques unfold, but he is an incredibly fast learner, always eager to expand his horizons. Architecture is all about visualization and one of Antonio’s most redeeming qualities is his ability to see the projects beyond the drawing board.

One of our current civic projects, in the conceptual design phase, has shown us that Antonio can handle any type of architectural project. A 120-acre mixed-use development area requires complex planning as the various land uses include single family housing, multi-family housing, commercial, civic, parks, and open space. Antonio is capable of understanding the clients’ needs and converting those ideas to paper. He is able to visualize the parameters of an area and maximize housing units without reducing the parks or open space. It’s inevitable that engineering problems occur during a project of this stature, but a good architect like Antonio will be able to assess the issue and come up with potential solutions on the spot without being overwhelmed. Antonio has been instrumental in the design and conceptualization of this project.

Antonio continues to impress me with his performance and seemingly endless enthusiasm. He has incredible creative thinking skills, able to analyze and critically assess problems to find the most effective solution. His designs and ideas are extremely creative and he manages to see the big picture without missing the smallest details. I highly recommend that you consider Antonio into your Master of Architecture program. I believe that he will go on to accomplish great architectural feats and I hope that Roger Williams University will provide him with the chance to do so.

Kind regards,

Sam Irving, RA, AIA, LEED AP, PMP

sample 3

April 2nd, 2017
Elliot Thatcher
Senior Software Engineer
TechCorp Inc.
445 Anderson St., Boston, MA
(718) 665-8989

To the Admissions Committee:

It is with great pleasure that I write to you in regards to Carl Watson’s acceptance into the Computer Engineering program at MIT. I have been overseeing Carl’s work here at TechCorp for almost 3 years and I’ve seen firsthand his contribution to our company. I highly recommend you consider Carl for your program as he very capable computer technician and is always eager to increase his knowledge of the technology industry.

I hired Carl as an intern shortly after his graduation from college and it quickly became evident he was a perfect fit for our company. While Carl is perfectly capable of working independently, his interpersonal skills are exemplary and allow him to thrive in a group atmosphere or when speaking publicly. He has completed multiple projects over the course of his time at TechCorp and in a very timely manner. His coding abilities are some of the best I’ve ever seen. In this line of work there are always a million little problems and bugs that must be fixed, Carl has never-ending patience and determination when it comes to these inevitable snags. He is extremely capable of maintaining focus for long periods of time and his performance never falters, even after working on one task for an extended period of time.

The main reason why I think any graduate school would be ecstatic to have Carl join their program is his desire to be a part of the advancement of technology and computer software. Usually I assign projects to interns, but Carl has proven to be a very capable and trustworthy employee and when he approached me with his own idea for a project, I was quick to say yes. He’s working with a small team of new interns to create a face-detecting system that could be used for providing access to facilities, much like fingerprint ID. The amount of work that gets done increases when Carl is in the picture, he’s a very focused individual and that quality tends to rub off on his colleagues. He is enthusiastic, energetic, and has a very positive attitude that contributes to the workplace and will no doubt have the same effect on any classroom setting.

Carl is a very mature, well-rounded individual and has become a great asset to this company. We will be sorry to see him leave, but we’re glad he’s willing to take the time to extend his education. If he is accepted into this program, Carl will quickly prove himself as a brilliant young man who will no doubt go on to make significant contributions to his chosen field. Feel free to contact me anytime to further discuss Carl’s qualifications.

Regards,

Elliot Thatcher


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