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Applying to Graduate School and Application Tips

Material from Allison Sedey, Ph.D. at the University of Colorado-Boulder

What you typically need:

  • Resume
  • Internship/work/research experience
  • The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) test scores
  • Application essay
  • Letters of recommendation

Letters of Recommendation

Most schools require 3 letters of recommendation. Give your “recommenders” at least 4 to 8 weeks’ notice before they are due. A courtesy reminder can be done 2 weeks before the letters are due.

Selecting your Recommenders

  • At least 2 of 3 letters should come from professors in your intended major in graduate school. Graduate schools are primarily interested in your potential to succeed academically.
  • A letter from someone who has supervised you in a professional capacity is often valued – especially if the work you did was relevant to the field in which you are applying.
  • Do not request letters from friends, family members, or colleagues.

Organizing your Materials for your Recommenders

It pays to be organized for your professors. They typically are asked to write a lot of letters so the more organized you are the better.

  • Put all of your materials in a large envelope clearly labeled with your name.
  • Include a resume so that your recommender can individualize your letter and comment on your strengths above and beyond your class performance. Include your overall GPA, major GPA, courses you took from your recommender and the grade you received, GRE scores, relevant work and volunteer experience, leadership roles, extra-curricular activities.
  • Include your application essay.
  • A photo of yourself may be useful.
  • If you have non-faculty recommenders, they may not be aware of what points to cover in letters of recommendation. They may ask you what to include. Some talking points you can share with them are:
    • Your ability to work effectively on a team and with others
    • Work ethic (punctuality, attendance, focus on work tasks, etc.)
    • Ability to learn new skills/tasks
    • Attention to detail
    • Leadership potential

Submitting your Letters of Recommendation

Most graduate schools have recommenders submit their letters of recommendation online. There may be a standard recommendation form that they want the recommender to complete as well.

  • Organize all of the for your recommender by listing each school you are applying to, including what needs to be done online, i.e., forms and where to access the form.
  • If the school you are applying to requires the letter to be mailed, provide your recommender with an addressed, stamped envelope.
  • Schools will ask you whether you would like to waive or retain your right to view the letter. Note that confidential recommendation letters tend to carry more weight. Some faculty may not write a recommendation letter unless it is confidential.