How to Ask for – and Get – Great Letters of Recommendation

When applying to a Master of Public Health (MPH) graduate program, letters of recommendation are an essential element of the application process. Almost every graduate school application requires at least one. When applying to the MPH@GW program, be prepared to submit two letters of recommendation as part of the application requirements.

Why Letters of Recommendation Are Important

Well-written recommendation letters can be very persuasive and directly impact your chances for acceptance into a program. They provide admissions committees with a perspective on your strengths and abilities that can’t be found in your transcripts, resume or test scores. They can also help validate your potential for learning and your commitment to the field.

Who to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

While your mother or best friend probably has great things to say about your potential, recommendation letters from family members and friends are not appropriate. Choose people who you know professionally or academically; who hold you in high esteem; and who can describe your skills, accomplishments and personality. A current professor, a direct supervisor and/or an executive leader in your company — ideally those who have advanced degrees like the one you are seeking — are all great people to reach out to.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

While not mandatory, it is ideal to speak with your preferred recommenders in person. If possible, schedule an appointment or a brief meeting, explaining that you’d like to discuss your plans for earning an MPH.

  • Plan ahead. Ask your recommenders well ahead of your application deadline — ideally at least six to eight weeks in advance. This will help to ensure they have ample time to craft a meaningful, well-considered letter. Rushed recommendation letters tend to be lower quality and not as personalized. Also, it’s simply not polite to expect your recommender to write a well-intended letter in just a few days.
  • Explain why they are the one for the job. Communicate up front why you value your recommenders’ opinions and respect their professional expertise. Why do you look up to them? Why does their opinion of you matter? What qualities do they have that you want your recommendation to reflect?

What to Do When They Say “Yes”

Once they’ve agreed to the task, give your recommenders everything they need to make the process as painless as possible. Help set expectations by providing your letter writers with as much information as you can, including:

  • Facts about the MPH program(s) you are applying to. Let your letter writers know exactly which schools you are applying to and why you’ve selected each school. You may find that it is helpful to write a “letter of interest” that outlines this information.
  • Information about you. Provide your letter writers with a copy of your resume as well as a list of specific accomplishments. If you are asking a professor to write a letter, include one or two papers you’ve written that are relevant to the degree you hope to earn. This can help jog their memories and make it easier for them to include specific examples. You may also want to share with them your admissions essay.
  • Be clear as to when they need to submit the completed letter. You may want to suggest a date that is several weeks earlier than your absolute deadline, just be certain that your request is completed on time.
  • Give your letter writers the mailing or online uploading instructions. It is also a good idea to provide them with a pre-addressed, pre-paid envelope.

Check in with your letter writer a week or two before your deadline to make sure they have everything they need or to ensure they have sent your letter.

After the Application Process

After your letter writer has submitted their letter of recommendation, there are two simple — but very important — steps to complete:

  • Let them know you’ve been accepted! Letter writers love to know their efforts have been successful in helping a student gain acceptance to a program. Let them know if their work has paid off! 

Thoughtful, well-written letters of recommendation are critical to providing an informed perspective of your academic achievements as well as your professional experience. Take time to seek out the right recommenders and provide them with the tools and information they need to write an accurate and meaningful recommendation.

To learn more about application requirements and deadlines, visit the Admissions section of the MPH@GW website. If you have any additional questions, contact an Admissions Counselor at 1-855-674-2849 or by e-mail.