Getting an academic letter of reference for post-graduate studies

academic reference lettersTips for SDS Students

1.       Whom should I ask for a reference letter?

You will want to get a letter from a professor in whose class you did very well. Ideally, it would be a professor who has evaluated your work in multiple ways (e.g., multiple choice, assignments, essays, class participation). Preferably it would be a full-time faculty member.

Even better would be someone with whom you have conducted independent or supervised research (e.g., independent study, honours essay, research apprenticeship).

2.       What information should I give the professor about myself?

Remind them what course(s) you took with them and what mark(s) you got. Include a copy of your unofficial transcript from Quest so they can see whether you have consistently received high marks throughout your degree.

You might send samples of work you did in the course. If it was an online course, you could send samples of your discussion posts.

Also include your resume and the statement of interest that will go with your application. You don’t have to wait until these are ready to ask the professor about a reference, but make sure you share them in advance of the application deadline. If you have not had much one-on-one interaction with the professor, or it’s been a few years since you took their course, you may want to meet with them to refresh their memory and tell them about your interests and career goals.

3.       When should I make the request of the faculty member?

Most graduate applications are due in December or January, so asking a professor for a reference letter in October or November is recommended. For one, you want to give them enough time to prepare. Second, it’s possible they might say they don’t know you well enough to write a strong letter, so you want to leave yourself enough time to find someone else to write for you.

Send the professor all of the recommended materials (see point 2) at least 30 days prior to the deadline for submitting the letter. Remind them of the deadline via email a week or two in advance.

4.       I’m applying to multiple schools. Should I ask the same person?

Yes. You want your strongest reference to write for all schools. Once they have one letter written, it’s fairly easy to adapt it for other schools. Let your professor know as soon as possible which schools you are applying to, what is required of the references, and what the deadline is for each.

5.       I’m only in first or second year but I know I want to go to graduate school. Is there anything I can do to help ensure I have good references when the time comes?

First and foremost, work hard and do well in your courses. The Student Success Office has many resources to help you if you are struggling to obtain good marks.

Show your professors that you are engaged and interested in the material. Participate in class discussions. Stay after class to ask a question or see them in their office hours. If you are only taking online courses, you can still distinguish yourself by reaching out to the professor with questions or comments on the course content or assignments.

Ask a professor whose course you have taken if you can get involved with their research (e.g., volunteer or paid research assistant, research apprenticeship course, honours essay).

Additional Resources from the Centre for Career Action 

For reference letters:

For Personal Statement/Letter of Intent:

For CV/résumé: > Apply/Interview > Writing CVs and Build and submit your CV.

For graduate or professional school planning: > Further Education > Program information for the related program