An application for graduate school has five main components: GPA, GRE scores, Personal Statement, Resume, and letters of recommendation. Today we’re going to cover the letters of recommendation. While you may not have a say over what your recommenders write, I’ll go over a few guidelines to ensure that you get the most benefit out of your letters. For this post, I’m going to focus on 4 points: Who, What, When, and How.
For graduate school applications, unless you have been out of school for several years, at least two of your letters should be from academic sources (unless stated otherwise). That means two letters should be from professors (or Teaching Assistants), and one could be from someone who knows you professionally outside the classroom (a boss, internship supervisor, a faculty/staff member who works with you on an extra-curricular activity, etc.). A letter from a high school teacher, family member, neighbor, or friend would generally be seen as inappropriate.
Remember: Relationship > Title
This is very important. Some applicants think that if they get a letter from their elected representative (assemblyman, senator) or another notable member of the community, their letter will somehow hold more weight. This is not true. What’s important is what the recommender has to say about you.
Let’s say that you’re in a 250-person lecture class. You score high marks, but do not interact directly with the professor. For most of the group work and projects, you’re working with a Teaching Assistant. The TA gets to know you and understands your work ethic. The professor knows you scored high marks, but couldn’t put a name to your face. We would much rather see a thoughtful letter of recommendation written by the TA who can speak to your abilities and tell us about you, than a letter from a professor that says “Jimmy scored high marks in my class. I’m sure he will do well in your program.” An average letter that shows you’re “satisfactory” doesn’t really add to your application.
While you don’t get to write the letter, more often than not your recommender will ask you for your thoughts. This is your chance to help guide your recommender to submit the best possible letter.
Your letters of recommendation should show two things:
1. Your academic ability – that you are ready for graduate-level coursework
2. Your fit for program – that you are interested in and would succeed in the given program
A common myth is that a recommender should regurgitate your resume in order to tell us about all of the things you do outside the classroom. This is NOT necessary, as you are submitting a copy of your resume with the application. Your letters of recommendation are supposed to illustrate your academic ability and fit for the program. It is a good idea to let your recommender know why you decided to ask them. For example, if you want your professor to talk about the research project you worked on together, let him/her know that!
Ideally, you should give your recommenders at least a month to produce your letters. Remember, you are not the only person who has asked them to write one, and they are also likely swamped with other responsibilities. It’s good to approach your potential recommender when the deadline is more than a month away to ask if he/she would be willing to write a letter for you. Follow up with them regularly, but understand they have many other commitments. Remember, it’s your responsibility to ensure that they have enough time to write the letter, are aware of the deadline, and are planning to submit on time.
When approaching a potential recommender, you should ask: if they feel they would be able to write a satisfying letter of recommendation for you, if they (honestly) have time, and if they would be willing. Let them be honest. If they decline, it’s for the better. It’s best to find out now that they don’t have time or don’t feel that they know you well enough, than to have your application submitted late or have a lousy letter.
If they agree to write recommendation, follow up with them regularly to remind them of the deadline. After they submit your letter, send them a hand-written thank you note, because they took time out of their schedule to help you out. When you are accepted to schools and decide where you are attending, follow up with them to let them know, and thank them again.
So that’s letters of recommendation in a nutshell. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact us at email@example.com. Thanks for reading our blog, and stay tuned for future posts!
As a first year MPA student, I can tell you that knowing the best places to grab a bite to eat is very important knowledge. Even graduate students need to take a break from studying sometimes, and knowing the best places to eat during those breaks is key!
First on any students list should be places to grab coffee. You can’t beat Husted Café for convenience, as it is located right in the center of the downtown campus, where most Rockefeller classes are located. However, if you want to stretch your legs in-between classes, Lark Street is a short walk away from the downtown campus and features several great coffee shops. Both Stacks Espresso Bar and The Daily Grind are renowned shops in the area, and deserve a visit among Lark’s almost overwhelming array of independently owned shops and boutiques. If you want to explore the area a bit, Hudson River Coffee House is a cozy hole-in-the wall shop near both the College of Saint Rose and Alumni Quad, both just a few short blocks from the downtown campus. Finally, if your journeys take you to the Uptown Campus be sure to stop in at Uncommon Grounds, whose breakfast bagel sandwiches I’ve only heard great things about.
If you’re feeling a bit hungrier and could use a full meal, you have plenty of options as well. Sovrana Pizza is a short skip and a hop from the downtown campus, and as such is a popular choice. In this author’s humble opinion they have the best pizza in the Capital Region, and the prices are very reasonable. If you want to branch out from pizza, Lark Street is once again a great option. Bombers Burrito Bar is renowned for, you guessed it, their burritos, but their whole menu is guaranteed to leave you satisfied. Right next door to Bombers is Sukhothai, which is a delicious and cheap option if you happen to be into Thai food. Finally, if you’re into Sushi you’re in luck, because the Capital District is abundant in Sushi restaurants. I can personally attest to Sushi Tei’s high quality (located on Western Avenue) and Sushi X has an all-you-can-eat lunch special every weekday (located a short drive away in Latham).
I tried to stick to local places in this post, but of course there are great chain options as well. Chipotle, Five Guys, and DiBellas Subs all have locations close to campus and are college favorites. Widely speaking, this list features only a sliver of the options available to students. Go out and explore what the Capital District has to offer!
Students often ask what their GRE scores and/or GPAs mean for their applications. If you are asking yourself this question, remember when a program lists averages that does not automatically mean a GRE score or GPA below the average makes you ineligible. For example, the average undergraduate GPA for students admitted to our MPA program is a 3.65; that does not mean if you are slightly below the average you will not be considered for admission. However, the further away from the average you are, the less competitive your application will be. The same goes for GRE scores.
If your GRE scores and/or GPA are significantly below the provided averages, you still have options. If your GRE scores are an issue, we strongly advise students to consider retaking the exam to improve their scores. If you did not do so well the first time around, it would probably be a good idea to purchase a GRE review book or consider taking a GRE prep class. If your GPA is your challenge, review your transcript to identify areas where you struggled and consider retaking some of those courses, especially if they provide knowledge you need for your intended program of study (for prospective MPA students, quantitative courses are a good example). This not only helps improve your application, it will likely contribute to your success as a student if admitted. Another option would be to apply as a non-degree student, which would allow you to take courses in your chosen field. If you do well in those courses, you can apply to your intended master’s program. Taking courses as a non-degree student will allow the admissions committee to see you are able to be successful, at the graduate level, in your intended field of study. If admitted, courses successfully completed as a non-degree student can be applied to master’s level programs at the College.
Of course, if you are concerned about your GRE scores and/or GPA, you should talk to an admissions counselor about your specific situation to help identify the best option(s) for you. Don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or concerns.
An internship is a great way to earn money, try out new professions, but most importantly develop skills that are integral to your career success. You probably completed an internship during your undergraduate years, whether it was working on a political campaign, at a law office, or in a business setting. While the average undergraduate student is usually faced with a mountain of paperwork to copy, fax, or file, a graduate level internship is different – it is professional and it will strongly impact your future career.
When advising students on choosing internships, I urge them to look at an internship as more than a paycheck, but as a strategic career move. After all, over 20% of the Class of 2013 secured a full-time job after completing an internship at that particular site. An internship can lead to a job offer, either at that same organization, or at another. A Class of 2014 MPA graduate just scored a full-time research job at The Brookings Institute directly because of the health policy research he conducted at his academic year internship. Therefore, it’s important to look carefully at all aspects of an internship before accepting an offer.
In the MPA program, I meet with students in their first semester to discuss how they can gain the skills necessary to succeed in their chosen career path, be it through coursework or through internships. It’s easy to accept an internship in a familiar area of study, lapsing into old habits, but the truly great internships will propel you forward. For example, if you are interested in nonprofit advocacy, investigate internships at state agencies where you can see policy implementation in action, which will give you insight into how to advocate for new and better policies in the nonprofit setting. I always recommend finding a “dream job” posting, and comparing it to your current resume – more than likely, you won’t seem qualified. However, remember that you have 2 years to revamp your resume and obtain the necessary skills and you’ll be surprised at where you end up! Enlist the help of professors, classmates, family, and of course, your friendly Director of Career Services!