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Career Exploration & Research

Resources to help students identify a career, select a major, identify colleges and universities, and find financial assistance.

Who, What, How, and When

How do you choose which professors to ask for letters of recommendation?

  • Usually three letters are required.
  • Choose professors who know your work well, especially those who teach in your major and minor.
  • From whom have you taken the most courses?
  • Who will be able to rank you highly?

What will the professors need to address in these recommendations?

  • Graduate schools first and foremost want to know if you have the ability to successfully complete the program in the time allocated for the degree.
  • Your ability to work with peers, supervisors and subordinates; your teaching potential (since you may get a teaching assistantship) and your ability to hand work in on time.
  • Your outstanding abilities or talents and liabilities or weaknesses.
  • They will need to comment on your level of oral and written communication skills.

Once you have decided who you would like to write your recommendations, you need to send TWO emails.

Email #1

Here is an example of the first email you send to a professor:

Dear Prof. Rodriguez:

I would like to attend graduate school to pursue a Master's degree that will lead to my career goals as a criminologist or forensic scientist. Would you be willing to provide me with an excellent letter of recommendation?

If you agree, I will forward you the appropriate information for the graduate schools I have chosen.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Maria Garcia

  • If you haven’t heard from them within 5 days, go to their classroom or office and ask them in person if they received it. Remember it is your responsibility to ensure you get an answer.
  • Once you find 3 professors willing to give you excellent letters of recommendation (or very good ones at the least), you need to send them a 2nd email at least 2 weeks before the letters are due.
  • Some professors may tell you that they cannot give you an EXCELLENT recommendation.  Try someone else, or meet with the professor to discuss it.

Email #2

  • In addition to the type of message below that you will send, it is helpful to include your personal statement or reason for applying to each program, as well as your resume and co-curricular or service transcript.

Here is an example of the second email you need to send:

Dear Prof. Rodriguez:

Thanks for agreeing to provide recommendations for my graduate school applications. For your reference, I have taken SC1311 (fall 2009), SC3322 (spring 2010), and SC4383 (spring 2011) with you, and have earned an A-, B+, and A, respectively. Following is the contact information, submission requirements, and specific degree for which I am applying at that institution:

Ms. Andrea Purvis
Graduate Affairs Asst.
Dept. of Criminology
University of Texas
455 Campus Drive
Austin, TX 67890
(Please give letter in a sealed envelope directly to me by Nov. 20)
(Applying for an M.A. in Criminology)

Dr. Julia Smith
Graduate Studies Chair
Dept. of Sociology
Columbia University
677 104th Street
New York, NY 87611
(Please email the letter directly to Dr. Smith by Dec. 1)
(Applying for an M.A. in Forensic Studies)

Prof. Pablo Flores
Dean of Scientific Anthropology
University of Michigan
111 Anne Street
Ann Arbor, MI 77863
(an electronic reference form will be sent to your Coker email address directly from the university)
(Applying for an M.S. in Forensic Science)


Maria Garcia


Thank you to Deanne Frye, former Director of Career Services, Coker College, for granting permission to adapt this page.