Jason Rodrigues

Art of a Good Grad School Recommendation

While a simple search may yield numerous results for a sample recommendation letter, an admissions committee can smell a fake recommendation from a mile away. What is a fake recommendation you ask? Well, words to describe it would be, inauthentic, impersonal and unspecific.

There are a number of things that are within your hands when it comes to sealing the deal when it comes to getting into the school of your choice including applying early, putting together a compelling personal statement and having a stellar academic background. Albeit, your letters of recommendation play a deep-rooted role in making sure you’re the candidate for them.

Reading other’s reference letters and skimming through samples will only get you that far. A glowing recommendation, or what one could consider compelling on part of the admissions committee is one that successfully conveys the following through each and every line.


Analytical Ability

Your ability to crunch through mathematics heavy concepts while making critical contributions every day is heavily hinged on your capacity to take up a quantitative approach toward problem-solving. This can be displayed in a variety of ways. It’s best to be specific.

Intellectual Capacity and Independence

Your ability to take on difficult problems and sit with them and tackle them is seen as critical to succeed at graduate school. An instance that describes self-guided intellectual curiosity coupled with the ability to see a problem through to its outcomes (good or bad) is key.

Drive, Motivation, and Perseverance

This is especially useful to put forth when you’re taking on a specific problem – recommenders need to find ways to show that the candidate they’re endorsing is indeed driven to a see a problem that they’ve gotten started on through.

Writing Ability

Research is a critical component of graduate studies and writing effectively a component of research. Being able to write succinctly is a sought after skill in a candidate. Illustrating the same through concrete examples makes for a good recommendation.

Teaching Ability

Having a series of experiences teaching that can be effectively shown by a third person is a very useful thing to be endorsed for. It gives a sense of possible contribution to the university and sets you up for possibly a Teaching Assistantship.

Ability to organize and express ideas

Being able to effectively communicate your thoughts and ideas does not limit itself to presentations and emails. Graduate schools require immense clarity of thought which will be put out there by means of your personal statement and will have additional weight if endorsed by someone else (your recommender).

Performance in a Team

How much of a team player you are is often best illustrated by a corporate recommendation and depending on the course could outweigh many metrics. Specific instances of your ability to effectively collaborate over a problem to arrive at a solution can make a compelling case. Being rated a top performer be it in an academic setting or corporate setting requires grit. Reference letters that display the same drive the point home.


A good recommendation letter from an experienced person who’s been through the same ofter times will convey with conviction a combination of the above factors in a balanced way that corroborates the picture painted by the candidate’s essays and resume.

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