Who Should I Ask for Recommendation Letters?

The Brown School’s MSW and MPH program applications both require three letters of recommendation from professional and/or academic colleagues. For folks currently in school or working with a supervisor they love, the choice in who to ask for these letters may be obvious. For others who have been out of school for awhile or who haven’t had a good supervisor in a few years, it may feel really daunting to ask people to speak on your behalf for an application that is important to you. So,  who should you ask to write your recommendation letters?

Someone who knows you … and likes you. While it may seem like a good idea to ask the professor who gave you an “A” in Politics 101 (a class which had 500 students), think about how well they know you and if you have a positive relationship with one another. Did you ever go to office hours? If you saw them at a campus event, would they greet you by name and engage you in conversation? If you’re choosing a colleague, consider whether or not your working relationship was positive. When someone knows you well and likes you, it will shine through in their recommendation letter

Someone you know … and like. The reverse is also true! Choose a supervisor you really enjoyed working with or the professor whose class informed your interests related to your pursuit of this graduate degree. For me, this was a professor who taught two of my Gender & Sexuality Studies courses (and who significantly expanded my understanding of and interest in queer theory, intersectionality, and social justice). 

Someone who can attest to your potential and growth. OK, so you know each other and like each other. In what ways has this person witnessed or helped facilitate your academic and/or career growth? If they’re a professor and you easily breezed through their class feeling like you didn’t learn or grow much, they may not be the best choice. Choose someone who saw you overcome obstacles, whether that was grappling with a tough concept over the course of the semester, balancing a full course load with work or extracurriculars, or effectively communicating with a difficult coworker. A professor or colleague who witnessed this growth will be able to highlight your strengths in times of challenge. 

So what type of connection makes the best recommendation? The Admissions team encourages academic and professional references, especially from people who have overseen some area of your work in school, research, employment, or as a volunteer. That being said, your recommenders don’t have to have a background in social work or public health! For example, if you worked at a restaurant for four years and your manager loved you, they could be a great person to ask if they can speak to your strengths and personal growth.

Regardless of who you ask to write your recommendations, it might be helpful to share with them your personal statement, current CV, and a blurb about how they impacted your academic and/or career trajectory (indicate why they’re the best fit to speak on your behalf!). If they like and support you, can attest to your potential and growth, and are given the resources to better understand your aspirations for graduate study, they are sure to submit a recommendation that contributes to your strongest application. 

For further tips on submitting your strongest application, check out this recent Admissions Info Session