Letters of Recommendation

Students hoping to enter graduate or professional school after graduation from Northwestern will need to submit letters of recommendation from several faculty members as part of the application process. Those applying for jobs also need to submit the names of faculty members who can evaluate their personal qualities and skills.

What can you do to increase the likelihood of getting strong faculty recommendations? Doing well on exams and course assignments is, of course, necessary, but it is not sufficient. A letter which says only that you "earned A grades on all course exams and assignments" implies that this is all the writer can say about you.

To avoid ending up in this situation, you should begin early in your studies to try to get to know several professors well. How can you do this? By taking small courses with them (most upper level math courses have relatively small enrollments; in other departments, look for discussion-oriented seminars), by going to their office hours to discuss class topics or to seek advice, and/or by working on independent study or research projects with them. Let them see how bright and intellectually curious you are, the range of skills you possess, and what a pleasure you are to work with. Professors who know you well and who enjoy their own interactions with you will do a good job of communicating to admissions committees or potential employers that they, too, should value the chance to work with you and get to know you.