How to get into Grad School with no letters of recommendation

Getting into a graduate school program often requires jumping through a load of hoops. One of the most important aspects of your application will be a letter of recommendation. However, some people struggle to get a letter of recommendation from a professor.

You can get into grad school without a letter of recommendation by choosing a grad school which does not require one, ensuring that your application includes other types of credible information, and reaching out to past professors (no matter how long ago they taught you).

I have provided a number of letters of recommendation during my time in academia and I’ll help you understand what they really achieve and where else you can bolster your application.

This article will go through everything you need to know about getting into a grad school without a letter of recommendation and, how you can improve your chances of being admitted to the grad school and the course of your dreams.

Why they use letters of recommendation

Graduate schools require letters of recommendation so that they can evaluate students quickly.

It is very difficult to compare a large set of students applying for a graduate school program. A letter of recommendation allows the institution to quickly sum up the applicant’s strengths and experience as witnessed by a professor or teacher.

A letter of recommendation is a summary of your personal and professional brand.

Many graduate school programs have many incredibly bright and capable students applying. They all have the same test results, and a letter of recommendation gives insights into the person that go well beyond their academic transcript.

Also, professors often know other professors from outside institutes. A personal recommendation from someone who is well-known in the academic field is a very powerful thing to include in your application.

Do not worry, however, if you cannot get hold of a letter of recommendation.

There are plenty of ways you can elicit the same level of confidence in your application. We will look at all of these below.

Can you get into grad school without letters of recommendation?

The good news is that you can get into grad school without letters of recommendation. It all depends on the popularity of the course and the competition and standards of the other students applying.

There are also plenty of institutions that do not require a letter of recommendation.

It is very important that you always contact potential graduate schools before applying (no matter what the circumstances are).

Reaching out to an institution before applying helps you understand what they expect from you and will help you identify institutions that do not require letters of recommendation.

What do you do if you don’t have recommendations for grad school?

There are many ways to bolster your application without recommendations from academics from your past.

If you do not have a letter of recommendation for grad school, you should ensure that every other aspect of your application is as strong as possible.

A typical graduate school application includes:

  • academic transcripts
  • standardised test scores
  • statement of purpose – VERY IMPORTANT
  • resumes or CVs
  • work experience

For a full rundown of the most critical elements of a graduate school personal statement check out my video, below.

The personal statement component of your application will need to really stand out if you do not have a letter of recommendation.

Ensure that you include all the critical elements I mentioned in my video including your personal purpose and passion, and the three whys. Why you? Why now? Why them?

Also, there are plenty of other ways you can get the information that is equivalent to that in a letter of recommendation. We will talk about these below.

Reach out to a potential grad school supervisor directly

If you do not have a letter of recommendation from your past, you could get a letter of recommendation from a potential future supervisor.

You can recheck to a potential graduate school supervisor for a chat about their research and potential opportunities in their research group.

By showing an interest in their work, allowing them to talk freely about the challenges associated with their research, and providing evidence to them that you have the potential to be an excellent addition to their research team, you may be able to get them to write a letter of recommendation.

Getting a letter of recommendation from an academic in the school that you are applying to is also an incredibly powerful addition to your application.

Get in contact with past professors and teachers

Everyone has teachers and professors that they have interacted with in the past.

A letter of recommendation doesn’t have to be from an academic at a tertiary education Institute.

You can also reach out to your past professors and teachers who you feel have seen you in your best light. Any personal recommendation from an education provider will help your application stand out.

The more recent the letter recommendation, the better. But, reaching out to past teachers can also be an acceptable admission with your application.

Ask a former boss

Perhaps you have worked for a number of years outside of academia. In this instance, you can ask a former boss or supervisor for a letter of recommendation to include with your application.

Make sure that they include information such as:

  • your ability to learn
  • your ability to adapt to new environments
  • how well you get on with others
  • any particular aspect that makes you stand out

focusing on the information that is relevant to your graduate program will be the most powerful additions you can make.

It is also absolutely fine to provide your boss with an outline of what a perfect letter of recommendation looks like. People outside of academia can sometimes get confused about what is required.

Providing a prompt of what would be awesome to include will help your boss tremendously.

Talk to admissions directly

Lastly, if you do not have a letter of recommendation, you can reach out to admissions directly.

Organise a meeting with a decisionmaker at the admissions office of your target graduate school.

It can be very intimidating to reach out, but, ensuring that you are a known entity is very important.

If you can make a good enough impression in the first meeting they may even be looking out for your application and help it through the process.

It is all about building up familiarity with the decision-makers in the admissions office. It may take more than one meeting, but, any level of relationship you can build will be valuable to your application.

You can also reach out initially in an information gathering conversation. You needn’t be doing the hard sell from the get-go. This can be a little bit off-putting too.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about getting into grad school without a letter of recommendation.

The good thing is that there are plenty of graduate schools that do not require a letter of recommendation.

Reaching out to any prospective graduate schools and fully understanding their requirements for the application process will help you find the ones where a letter of recommendation is not as valued.

You can also help improve your chances of being admitted by including a powerful personal statement – my YouTube video went through everything you need to include.

Lastly, you can also get a letter of recommendation from other people in your past such as teachers, bosses, or reaching out to the admissions office and potential graduate supervisors directly.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.