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Getting letters of recommendation

hyperJuliehyperJulie Registered User Posts: 1,542 Senior Member
edited April 2011 in Graduate School

I've been reading a lot that letters of recommendation are really important to grad school admissions. I'm planning to apply for graduate school in school counseling, and I have one professor that I have worked with extensively who thinks very highly of me and will probably provide a very strong recommendation.

However, as a junior in psychology, I don't know that I have another professor who knows me well enough to write that great of a letter. I just transferred to this school and this major this year, and while I feel that I've made a good impression on most of my professors, I haven't really had the opportunity to get to know them all that well.

I'm wondering what I should do in this circumstance. I'm taking counseling psychology in the fall, and a lab with a professor that I've had before whose class I did really well in, and I'm crossing my fingers that I'll get to know either of them well enough to ask, but I'm pretty apprehensive about it. I don't want to go in and try to ingratiate myself with someone simply for the purpose of hoping for a letter of recommendation. I try really hard, participate in class, and do really well, but is that enough? I'd feel so phony going to office hours just to try and forge some connection. It's not that I'm not interested in getting to know my professors, but I feel guilty and strange about it knowing that no matter what I tell myself, I DO have an ulterior motive for doing so. I haven't even been able to go into office hours to ask questions or get help, because I haven't really had questions or needed help yet. :/

I appreciate any advice, everyone. :)
Post edited by hyperJulie on

Replies to: Getting letters of recommendation

  • b@r!um[email protected]!um Registered User Posts: 10,364 Senior Member
    If you don't want to go to office hours to ask 'fake' questions about class, why not go to office hours to talk about graduate school? You could even discuss your letters-of-recommendation situation with them.

    I needed 3 letters of recommendation for my PhD applications this year. There were two obvious choices but I couldn't think of a third professor to save my life. (Background: I took 8 of the most recent classes for my major with the same two professors, and also worked with them for over a year outside of class.) I ended up expressing my concerns to a professor who I had taken a class with a while back. He didn't know me terribly well at that time, but I knew that he cared a lot about his students and I wanted to hear his opinion. His response: "Okay, here's what we'll do..." He offered to write my third letter and he told me exactly what I needed to do before then so that he had something nice to say about me!

    I would encourage you to start discussing your graduate school plans with your potential references early next fall. This way they can pay more attention to your performance in class and won't be surprised when you ask them for letters later.
  • hyperJuliehyperJulie Registered User Posts: 1,542 Senior Member
    Thanks a bunch for the advice!

    I was thinking of doing what you suggested with one of my professors from this semester. She doesn't know me terribly well but she's super nice and I'm sure she's more savvy about this graduate school stuff than I am.
  • flyers29flyers29 Registered User Posts: 198 Junior Member
    I went to a large state school for undergrad (meaning upper-level classes could have 60 students in them), so the professor knowing the student well wasn't really common. I think a lot of them are fine writing one as long as you have a good grade in their class and such. Just make sure to get started on this process early--you may find that your professor will become suddenly unreachable for weeks on end. It was the hardest part of the application process in my opinion (I've done it twice, both times had an issue with the final recommender getting back to me by the deadline).
  • polarscribepolarscribe Registered User Posts: 3,232 Senior Member
    The better the professor knows you and the more they have worked with you, the stronger and more detailed a letter they can write. That's why undergraduate research opportunities and internships are so important. A letter that says "Student X earned an A in my class" will be viewed differently from "Student X earned an A in my class and he/she provided invaluable assistance in my research unit, performing X, Y and Z tasks at a high level."
  • flyers29flyers29 Registered User Posts: 198 Junior Member
    Very true, polar. Though I suppose I'm taking the view of getting the LoR simply as an application requirement, not how much its strength factors in your application (that's a whole different subject that's been discussed at length here before).
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