Application Pro Tip: Letters of Recommendation

Nov 24 2021
SPIA Graduate Admissions Office

The December 1 deadline to submit MPA, MPP and Ph.D. applications for Fall 2022 is quickly approaching. Here at the Graduate Admissions Office, we often receive questions about letters of recommendation. This post should provide helpful tips for securing the most impactful letters.

Letters of Recommendation

By virtue of the small class sizes of the MPA, MPP, and Ph.D. cohorts, admission to each program is competitive. In crafting a diverse class each year, it becomes necessary to turn away even qualified candidates. Outstanding letters of recommendation are often the key to success as they can provide perspective breadth and depth into the character, qualification, and fit of an applicant.

Three letters of recommendation are required for each of the degree programs. For applicants to the MPA program, we recommend one academic reference, one professional reference and a third reference of your choice. The third letter may be another academic or professional letter; it is usually most helpful to have a reference who can speak to your commitment to public service –an important component that should not be overlooked in the application.

Don’t chase references with lofty titles because you think their position is impressive to us; we honestly don’t care about titles. We want to see sincere letters from faculty, administrators, and professionals with whom you’ve worked and who know you well. Educate your references on the desired graduate program at SPIA; let them know why you are applying here specifically and your plans post-graduation. Also, show them your résumé and/or personal statement, as this will allow them to write well-informed letters.

The same advice applies to MPP applicants. However, we recommend two professional letters and one academic letter. The “academic” letter should come from a professor or even a professional who can attest to your ability to contribute to an academically rigorous quantitative program.

For our Ph.D. applicants, you will want to select faculty who can comment on your research skills and academic strengths and abilities, as well as your inclination to contribute to new research in meaningful ways in the future. If you have work experience, professional references can be useful in evaluating accomplishments and milestones made with organizations and in research.

Allow me to reiterate how critical it is to identify recommenders who can speak honestly and intimately about you, your character, ability, leadership, impact, and commitment to public service. These recommenders offer helpful evaluations that may prove critical during the admissions process.

Best of luck to you!