So you want to go to grad school...
I often have the privilege of being asked to provide references for students applying to grad school. This page lists some things you should keep in mind if you're considering asking me for such a reference. I can generally only write letters for students who've taken one of my classes and done well (in general, A– or better letter grade).
Please send the following information and documents, so I can quickly determine whether I can write a strong and enthusiastic letter in support of your application:
- Transcript ("unofficial" is great) and a reminder about which class(es) you took with me
- Updated resume or CV
- Any statement of purpose, essay, or writing sample you're planning to send departments
- A (plain, headshot) photo, as sadly I often have trouble matching names to faces
- A list of departments and institutions to which you're applying
- Your motivation for pursuing further education, in case we have not discussed this in person previously: what do you hope to achieve by pursuing a MA or PhD degree, what type of career path you're envisioning (academic, government, industry), etc.
Based on these documents and our previous discussions, I might have more questions before I can decide whether a letter from me would be helpful.
I generally offer these pieces of advice to students looking to go to grad school. Your mileage may vary. Caveat emptor.
- It is customary and expected of you that, whenever asked, you waive your right to access recommendation letters. This supports an equilibrium in which references can be at least somewhat truthful and informative. You should expect your letter writers to ask you to redo your application if you fail to waive access.
- For PhDs, apply broadly and go to the best school that's willing to fully fund you, based on conventional rankings (e.g. US News). In particular, do not take too seriously your field interests at this stage (except maybe if you already completed a MA degree) or accept an offer based on who's on faculty there now. This is a very mobile profession and by the time you start research, 2-3 years in the future, your ideal advisor might not be there anymore.
- You should expect to pay for MA programs, but only consider PhD acceptances that come with full funding. Working as a TA or RA as a funding source is appropriate and common in large state schools.
- Disregard any geographical preferences or prejudices you might have. The benefits to your future career from attending a great program in a remote location possibly outweigh any short-term personal discomfort or relationship strain. In fact, consider disregarding any and all preferences you might have at this stage: get some acceptance letters and only then think about what you'd like.
- Your references should ideally come from senior/tenured faculty members with name recognition within the profession. I do not qualify as such. I am happy to talk to you about who else in the department you should ask, out of the people with which you took classes. You might want to include a junior faculty member (such as myself) or a graduate instructor if they can write an informative, enthusiastic letter which provides more context for your work and potential.
- Be aware of or look into differences in customs, expectations, and standards between various departments and disciplines: Economics, Finance/Business School, Statistics, Data Science, etc. For obvious reasons, my advice and letter might be most productive with respect to Economics departments.
This is a great time to be a quantitative social scientist!
Best of Luck!
Back to my website