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How to Stay In Contact With Recommenders After Graduation?


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I'm a senior graduating in May 2011, and I plan to apply to English PHD programs during the 2011 cycle to ideally begin in Fall 2012. (It sounds so far-off!).

What should I do to stay in contact with my recommenders before and after I graduate this spring? What do students normally do to maintain academic connections over solely e-mail? Would it be a good idea to ask them to write general (not school specific) recommendations to be filed through the campus credentialing service before I leave campus as a back-up?

For whatever reason, I was talking with an advisor today and their reaction to this plan was that it would be really difficult for me or something (getting recommendations after I'd graduated). Perhaps this is in light of the fact that I could be applying now but I thought it would be best to take the year break in between for various reasons, but people keep reacting to this with "Why don't you just apply now if you know that's what you want to do," which makes me think twice about the decision (although there's not much I can do to change it now).

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I took a year off in between my BA and starting my PhD program (this week!), and I had no problems getting recommendations. So, if I understand you correctly, you are in your senior year right now and will be going through the application process NEXT fall(2011) for admission in the 2012-2013 year? Bravo for starting this process early, and while those dates may seem far off, they will approach rapidly and you (and the other people involved) will be grateful for your forethought.

Here's my recommendation (heh):

Go into this year with plans to rock the house, and feel free to mention to some of your preferred people that you would like to discuss graduate school applications. You don't have to bring up the letters of recommendation (LOR) quite yet, but you might as well lay some groundwork and get some good advice out of the process. They won't be writing any letters for you yet, obviously, but the difference between the May that you'll be graduating and the Sept/Oct/Nov that they'll be writing those LORs is not all that far apart-- the chances of them forgetting you are generally small, especially if you have developed an out-of-class mentor/mentee relationship with them. You don't have to visit their office hours or email them weekly during the year, but a few chats here and there will probably help establish or strengthen the connection. Ask about what schools they think are strong for your field, what professors or subjects they find most interesting, who they studied with, where they applied, any advice they can offer you, any extracurricular reading they would suggest for the summer before you apply etc. Anything to get them talking (or writing, in the case of email).

Around spring term, probably a week or two before finals or the week AFTER finals, shoot them an email or drop by their office and say "Hey, you know what, I really appreciate the advice you've given me this year, and I was wondering if you would have time this fall to write me a letter of recommendation? I feel like you have a good idea of what kind of student I am, and where I want to go in life, so I think a letter from you would be a really strong addition to my application packet." If this seems too early, you can always wait until the week before school starts in Fall of 2011, but make sure you do NOT wait too long. The higher you up on their list of letters-to-write and things-to-do, the better. If you ask them in the Spring, the Fall is the time to ask them again (to be polite) and provide information for the packet.

The packet you give to your recommender is key. Even if the professor doesn't have an encyclopedic memory of all the brilliant things you ever said in class, you are providing the most pertinent information in the packet: Your name, a rough draft of your Statement of Purpose, perhaps a list of classes you took from them, a sample essay from their class (ask if they would like this in the packet), a transcript if they need to see it, a list of all the schools and programs you are applying to plus the application deadlines, any forms or prompts required to accompany the LOR, and anything else that would make their job of writing this letter as easy as possible.

Maybe the recommending and advising process differs from school to school, but MANY people take time off between undergraduate and graduate degrees. In fact, at the program I'm starting right now, I'd say that maybe only one or two people are coming straight out of a BA, most people took time off before applying-- sometimes 10 or 12 years! If you do take some time off, preparing elements of this packet early will really make the process less hectic when you do settle down to start your applications. The same goes for developing that open line of communication with your potential letter-writers.

Hope some of this helps!

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The packet you give to your recommender is key. Even if the professor doesn't have an encyclopedic memory of all the brilliant things you ever said in class, you are providing the most pertinent information in the packet: Your name, a rough draft of your Statement of Purpose, perhaps a list of classes you took from them, a sample essay from their class (ask if they would like this in the packet), a transcript if they need to see it, a list of all the schools and programs you are applying to plus the application deadlines, any forms or prompts required to accompany the LOR, and anything else that would make their job of writing this letter as easy as possible.

Yes, this! I gave a packet like this to my 3 recommenders. I included my transcript (in which I pointed out which classes I took with them), a CV (so they were reminded about the internships/jobs I had), the schools I was applying to and their deadlines, a summary of my research interests (my SoP wasn't done at that point -- they saw that later), and my writing sample. It was a bit of a pain to compile everything, but it was very worth it. It was easier than trying to remember which professors I'd told what about my application process, and they were able to ask any additional questions they needed after looking that stuff over. In my case, they all knew me well enough that none of this was really new information, but it was helpful for them to have all the information in one place.

And I totally agree that the sooner you get everything done, the better. Unfortunately for me, though, my profs all had everything they needed in plenty of time, but one professor consistently gave me heart attacks by waiting until the 11th hour to submit stuff to schools. I didn't want to be rude, but I had to call him a few times on his cell phone over Christmas break to ask where the hell my letter of rec for School X/Y/Z was. Gotta do what you gotta do.

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I finished my MA thesis in dec of 2009, and I was only working with two professors on that, so I hadn't seen my 3rd recommender in a while. That being said, I took three courses with her and I think it's generally a rule that if you've stood out as a student who has excellent potential they don't forget you. I definately have worried about it though, thinking "how will they know who I am?" but professors only get very special students sometimes, I think, even at really great schools. Maybe this is totally wrong, but it's my impression.

I think I had kept in contact with my thesis advisor because I asked her for recommendations since I finished my thesis (for nonacademic jobs). She was always happy to do it. If you're really worried about them forgetting you, just make sure you include your full name in your email! And offer to send them papers you wrote in their class.

My second reader for my thesis told me she took 2 years off inbetween her master's and her ph.d. And she got into U of Chicago. I think that many people take a year or two off, and professors expect to hear from students a few years down the line.

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