Who to Ask for Letters of Recommendation

Who can I ask for a letter of recommendation?

Know who to ask for a letter of recommendation for grad school can cause some real headache. Who can I ask? How do I know? Is it better to ask A or B?

When I talk to students who got into graduate school in SLP about their applications, they all share similar experiences about who they asked for letters of recommendation (LOR). Also, when you talk with professors and faculty you hear stories about letters of recommendation that are not useful

SO, Who can you ask?

1. Whomever the school tells you to ask

Each school you apply to will specify how many letters of recommendation and also from whom the letters need to be. Most schools ask for three letters of recommendation and specify that at least two of them must be from academic faculty (in other words: professors).

Read these guidelines carefully and follow them! If they ask for two faculty in a related field, then they need to be from professors in SHS / Communication Disorders. If you’re not sure if a professor from linguistics class would count – call and ask!

2. People you’ve built relationships with

Golden Rule: Thou shalt not ask for a letter of recommendation without having visited that professor’s office hours at least one time.

You need to have a relationship with your LOR writer. If they know you (and especially if they like you a little bit) they’ll write a much stronger of letter of recommendation. Even if you’re taking online classes, find a way to connect personally with your professors.

Plan this at the beginning of the semester (“I will visit each professor’s office at least once during the first 3 weeks of class…) and then actually make it happen. It may be hard, but those visits will help you so much in the long-run.

3. A strategic variety

What seems better to you? Three letters of recommendation that all say, “Sally is a good student” or one letter that says “Sally is a strong writer”; another “Sally is a good student”; “Sally was a responsible student volunteer.”  Do you see how having a variety of letters can highlight a variety of skills and strengths?

Plan. Think about what each person can say about you. Did you write a big paper for one professor? Maybe you gave a good presentation for another class. Has this person observed you working with children or clients?

4. People who will write a strong LOR

This seems obvious but do not ask someone who won’t (or can’t) write a strong letter of recommendation. How do you know if they will? First, you ask: “I was wondering if you’d feel comfortable writing me a strong letter of recommendation for graduate school?” If the professor expresses some reservations, maybe this isn’t your best option. Second, try tactfully to find out if the person is a good writer. What do other students say about their LORs? Do they publish frequently?

5. FAQ: Can I Ask…

Despite the above tips and tricks, I’m sure you still have questions about asking specific people in your life. SO I’ve come up with some of the most common people that students usually ask about…

My priest / preacher/ rabbi :

The short answer: Yes
The long answer: Assuming the person meets the above mentioned standards, you just have to make sure the letter will focus on academic and professional strengths that will help you in grad school.

The family I babysit for:

The short answer: Yes
The long answer: If this person is a strong writer and you have a relationship, this can be a great person to speak well to your abilities as a future clinician and maybe even your time management skills.

My boss at ______:

The short answer: Yes
The long answer: Employer’s look at things differently than professors. If you’re going to ask a boss / supervisor for a letter of recommendation, make sure it is detailed enough and focuses on things that matter for grad school (time management, teamwork, ability to receive criticism, critical thinking, etc)

My family member who is also an SLP / Professor / Senator:

The short answer: No
The long answer: No relatives or family members should ever write a letter of recommendation on your behalf for graduate school. It is biased and therefore meaningless to the committee. Also, check out this post on Kisses of Death and harmful letters of rec.

Can I ask a professor even though I earned a B in her class?

The short answer: Yes
The longer answer: If that professor is willing to write strong, positive letter, then the grade does not really matter.

Can I ask a professor who I did research with but didn’t study with?

The short answer: YES!
The longer answer: YES! Research is hugely valuable and will help set you apart! Do it!

Can I ask someone who I haven’t worked with in a long time?
The short answer: It depends
The long answer: If this person will still remember you and be able to write a strong letter, than absolutely. If it has been a very long time, consider a visit or at least a phone call to sort of re-establish the relationship.

I was a teacher / educational assistant / or some other professional in a related field, can I ask supervisor?

The short answer: Yes
The long answer: If the person is going to write about your readiness for graduate school, then yes! Also, make sure that this is only 1 of your 3 letters of recommendation. The majority need to be from academic references. My department chair wrote me a wonderful letter of rec that surely helped me get into graduate school.

Can I ask a professor from another area?

The short answer: Yes
The long answer: If you majored in SHS (or something similar), than you could maybe get 1 LOR from a related field (Linguistics, Psych, Education, etc) but it is best to try for SHS faculty. If you’re an “out of fielder” (like I was!) than you can definitely use professors from other disciplines. Again it is best if they’re from a related field, but is not necessary. (One of my recommender’s is a professor of linguistics)


So, who did you ask for your letters of recommendation? Do you have any more questions about who you can ask or how to go about it? Feel free to email me: michael at thespeechblog dot com


Thank you to FreePik for parts of the featured image

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