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Here are some guidelines for getting good letters of recommendation for graduate school.
- Get to know the psychology department faculty. The best letters of recommendation come from faculty who know you well. Get involved in the department; join Psychology Club and attend faculty socials, talk to your professors in their office hours, ask about opportunities to do research or teaching assistantships or independent studies.
- Do a psychology internship. Another great potential source for a letter is an internship supervisor. The PSY 496 Psychology Internship course is offered every semester and gives you the opportunity to earn course credit for getting experience in the field. Do a stellar job, and you can also get a great letter of recommendation out of it.
- Ask for letters earlier rather than later. Plan to ask your potential letter writers to write you letters about 6 weeks before the actual graduate program deadline. Most graduate programs require three letters of recommendation.
- Ask the right people. Make sure you are asking people who can write you strong letters of recommendation. The strongest letters come from faculty or people in the field who have direct experience with you. Strong faculty letters come from faculty that you have both taken classes with and have interacted with outside of the classroom. When you ask someone to write you a letter of recommendation, ask if they think they can write you a strong letter. If the answer is "no," consider whether there is someone else you can ask. Do not ask for letters from family members, friends, or someone who is not in the field (i.e., your boss at the ice cream shop).
- Make the procedures crystal clear for your letter writers. Once someone has agreed to write you a letter of recommendation, give him or her the following things so that the process will be easy for them.
The easier it is for the letter writers, the less likely they will be to make mistakes. Also, you will seem well-prepared and conscientious, which will perhaps make your letter even more favorable.
- A list of the graduate programs you are applying to. Include in this list:
- The type of program it is (i.e., Masters in School Psychology)
- What is the deadline for the application?
- Will the letter be submitted electronically or as a hard copy?
- If the letter will be submitted as a hard copy, are there any forms that need to go with it and where does it need to go (i.e., Does it need to be returned to you? Or mailed directly to the graduate program?)
- Any other special instructions (i.e., "Seal the envelope and sign it across the flap").
- For any letters that need to be submitted as hard copies, include:
- Hard copies of any forms that need to be submitted with the letter
- A stamped envelope that is addressed to wherever the letter needs to go.
- A personal statement of your career goals and interests (this can be a draft of a personal statement that you will be including in your applications).
- A copy of your resume or curriculum vitae (CV).
- Write a "thank you" note. Good letters of recommendation require considerable effort. Acknowledging that effort with a simple thank you note after the letters have been submitted goes a long way.