One of the most common topics applicants ask us about are the letters of recommendation.  These letters are an important part of your application and provide the committee with helpful information and insight into your ability to be successful at Harris.

In this post, Senior Director of Student Recruitment Devon Reber Drehmer answers some of our most frequently asked questions. We hope these answers will be helpful to you work on your application.

Remember, you can submit your application by the next deadline even if your recommenders have not yet submitted. Our team will be in touch with you if more information is needed. If your recommender is having an issue they should email When in doubt, submit your application and our team will be in touch!

Watch the webinar: How Recommendations Strengthen your Application (36 min.) 

How many letters are required?

Three letters of recommendation are required.  These may be from academic or professional recommenders.

Whom should I ask?

Applicants typically ask their undergraduate faculty members and advisors, academic mentors, professional supervisors, and colleagues.  Supervisors and advisors from internships, volunteer, and co-curricular activities are also great options.  The committee prefers to read a letter from someone who knows you better rather than someone with a more prestigious title—for example, the committee would prefer a letter from your academic advisor who knows you well rather than the department chair who you met with once.

Academic or professional?

It’s up to you!  You can decide which combination of academic and professional letters is best for your application.  Think about what you are trying to communicate in your application and how your letters of recommendation can help you.  For example, if you have limited work experience, a strong letter from an internship supervisor can help the committee learn about your professionalism.  

What makes a great letter?

The best letters of recommendation give the committee a new perspective on you, your interest in policy, and your ability to be successful at Harris and in your career.  They provide specific examples that illustrate your perseverance, academic ability, and professionalism.

How and when should I make this request?

We recommend sending your recommenders an example of your resume and/or a draft of your motivation statement if you feel comfortable doing so, to make sure that they have the information that they need to write about you. Contact each recommender as far in advance of the application deadlines as possible (we recommend 6–10 weeks).

  1. Secure permission and contact information. Ask for permission to list them as a recommender and confirm their current work or professional email address, title, and other information requested.
  2. Give them the deadline for each application. The deadlines apply primarily to you, but we prefer to receive recommendations by the deadlines as well. 

How long should the letters be? Is there a word limit?

Typically letters of recommendation are 1–2 pages.  There is no word limit.

What will my recommender receive?

Once you complete the application information for your recommenders, each recommender will be sent a link via email to upload the letter to your application. You will not need to send them the link yourself. If your recommender is having trouble locating the link to upload their letter, please have them contact us directly at

Final words of advice

Always ask your recommender before entering their information.

Give your recommender time before the deadline. Be sure to send them our deadline information. 

Send your recommenders a thank you note and keep them updated about your graduate school process.

Looking for more application tips? Read our recent post: Tips for Writing Your Motivational Statement and Essays.