Applications to graduate or professional school usually require 2-3 letters of recommendation. Some programs will have their own preferences regarding who should write the letters, while others will only specify the number.
1. Ask someone who knows you well. It is usually best to have a strong letter from someone who knows your capabilities well rather than from a prominent individual who doesn't know you well. Admissions committees are trying to evaluate how successful you will be in academic programs, so you will certainly need at least 1 or 2 academic references. In many cases, however, you may also want to use 1 or 2 work-related references, especially if you are applying for a professional program such as for a degree in business, teaching, social policy, etc. Follow each program's instructions; if the instructions are not clear, contact the program directly for clarification or consult with someone in Career Services for advice.
2. Ask tactfully.
If you are unsure of the recommender’s willingness to write you a letter, you can ask them if they would feel comfortable commenting on your work for the type of program that you are considering. Always provide a copy of your resume
and a copy of your personal statement
if it is ready once they have agreed to write you a letter. If you find that you will be asking for letters for two different kinds of programs (i.e. a public policy degree and law school), then ask them to draft two versions of the letter with the slight amendment.
3. Ask early.
Be sure to ask faculty members at least
one month in advance of when you will need the letters. Follow up with recommenders before the deadline. You may wish to establish a confidential Credentials File
in Career Services to consolidate the process of providing each school with letters of recommendation from your professors. This service may prove especially convenient to those planning to apply a few years after graduation, as it allows you to get letters from current professors on file now, for use in the future.