Tuesday, January 02, 2007

applying to grad school (2)

Ten ways to get good, helpful reference letters for your grad school application:

10. Be a good student. Get good marks. Write good essays. Show up for class. Speak up in class.

9. Don't ask your priest, Member of Parliament, orT.A. for a letter.

8. Ask professors in the field to which you're applying. (Weigh carefully whether to seek a letter of reference from an Adjunct Professor, for two reasons. One, it's unlikely to be part of their job, so they're doing it strictly because of their generosity and sense of professionalism. Second, though they may know you best, their opinion may not be as highly regarded as that of a fulltime faculty member to some of the people who will read your application. This is unfair, but it's still something you should consider.)

7. Ask professors who know your work. Remind them who you are by giving them old essays they marked, by outlining your grades in their course, by a cv. This will also be very useful to them when writing your letters.

6. Ask them if they like your work. Be direct, and ask them to be direct. If they have reservations about you, and about writing you a letter, you need to know about it now.

5. Ask them, at some point in the process, if they would be willing to show you the letter, at the end of the process. Some won't be willing, some will (and those who won't be aren't necessarily saying bad things about you). Whatever. It can't hurt to ask, and it may help you in two ways: by letting you see how others see you, and by letting you see whether your referee writes good letters of reference (some people don't).

4. Ask well in advance. If they agree to write letters for you, give them plenty of notice -- at least a month, if possible -- before the deadlines.

3. Make it as simple as possible for them to write their letters. If a school you're applying to has an online form, don't just give the referees the url -- print out the form, add your contact information yourself, and deliver the form to them. If you're asking them to write 5 more letters, ask in 1 email rather than 5 (if possible), with a table of application addresses, deadlines, etc.

2. Ask them if there is anything else they need, and thank them.

1. And then send an email thank-you immediately after the deadline. If they've forgotten -- which happens! -- this should spur them to write and fax a letter straightaway.

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