Each part of your application to a clinical mental health counseling graduate program is important in its own right, but few components carry the weight of well-crafted letters of recommendation. These letters can offer a glimpse into your potential, as seen through the eyes of those who know your work and character.
Stand out from the crowd by following the tips in this comprehensive blog. Read essential tips for selecting recommenders, crafting eloquent requests, providing your referrers with effective support and following a timeline that ensures your references advocate convincingly for your potential as a future counselor.
Understanding the weight of reference letters
Admissions committees weigh letters of recommendation heavily. They are not mere formalities but rather personal endorsements that can tip the scales in your favor, particularly when programs are competitive.1 They provide a third-party perspective on your work ethic, intellectual ability, character, and readiness for graduate-level study. Thus, securing detailed endorsements from respected sources is a non-negotiable part of enhancing your graduate school application.
Guidance for recommender selection
Consider who among your contacts is best qualified to vouch for you when soliciting recommendations. Studies have highlighted the preference for detailed endorsements from mentors with whom applicants have worked closely and highly respected professionals in their field.1
Letters should not simply regurgitate information available elsewhere in the application or be filled with vague platitudes. Using an employer as a reference may be beneficial if you completed your undergraduate degree a while ago and don’t have a strong relationship with a professor. Make careful choices—select referrers who can provide positive, substantiated, and relevant content.
Effective communication with recommenders
Preparation is key when asking for a recommendation. Your communications with a prospective reference should make it easy for them to provide an effective recommendation. Organize a packet of materials that includes the following:1
- A cover letter summarizing your shared experiences in the context of clinical mental health counseling
- A table of graduate programs to which you’re applying and their deadlines
- Your resume/CV emphasizing your relevant experiences in the field
- An unofficial academic transcript
- Any other relevant items that showcase your suitability for a clinical mental health counseling career
This packet not only assists your recommender in crafting a detailed letter but also signals your professionalism and commitment to the application process for clinical mental health counseling programs.
Timeline for requesting recommendations
You should identify potential recommenders early in your graduate school application process. One expert recommends asking as early as three months before the application deadline.2 Other sources suggest allowing six weeks. Use your best judgment about how much time your recommenders will need to write good letters, and be sure to allow them ample time for the task.
Making your graduate school recommendation request
When asking, be direct: inquire if the person can strongly recommend you. If you perceive hesitation or uncertainty, consider other options. An unenthusiastic recommendation can significantly undermine your application.
How the recommendations will be submitted
Most graduate programs have adopted an electronic submission process for recommendations. After the applicant enters their information into the system, recommenders typically receive a URL and password by email, which they will use to upload their letters directly into the application file. The submission system often asks referrers to rate applicant characteristics such as motivation, research skills, and ability to work with others.1
Sharing information about how to submit your recommendation is an important part of your communication with potential recommenders. An admissions outreach advisor for Oklahoma City University (OCU) can provide you with additional information about the submission of your recommendation letters for the online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) program.
Should you waive your right to view reference letters?
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) addresses your right to access educational records, including letters of recommendation. Waiving this right can speak to your confidence and trust in your referrers, though it should be done prudently. Admissions committees generally give confidential letters more credence.1
Preparing to ask for your letters of recommendation
Begin by reviewing application deadlines and consider how to present your professional and academic history to potential recommenders. Providing your recommenders with up-to-date information demonstrates that you take the process seriously and value their contribution.
You also want to know how many references your prospective graduate program requires and whether they will accept only academic recommendations or if professional recommendations are also acceptable.
For example, the application checklist for the OCU online M.Ed. in CMHC specifies “Two satisfactory recommendation letters from college instructors” and then says, “ If the bachelor’s degree is more than five years old, a significant sample of former scholarship may be submitted in lieu of an instructor’s letter. In this case, the single letter of recommendation can be from a supervisory person of employment.”
Importance of backup referrers
Having alternate recommenders can save you from a last-minute scramble if a primary letter writer falls through. Identify at least one alternate writer early in your application process to ensure you are covered in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
The art of the ask: etiquette for recommendation requests
Stay on top of the recommendation process with carefully timed reminders and follow-ups. Some application management systems will send out reminders to recommenders, so find out how it works at the schools where you apply and adapt your follow-up schedule appropriately. Ensure you also express your gratitude for your recommenders’ time and effort, which will maintain goodwill and reinforce your professional reputation.
Take the next step toward your career goals with these guidelines
As a prospective student for an online Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, you stand on the brink of turning your aspirations into reality at Oklahoma City University. The recommendation guidelines here will help you put together a strong application package as you take a concrete step toward achieving your career goals in the mental health profession. An admissions outreach advisor is just a click away and will be happy to answer any additional questions you have about letters of recommendation and guide you through the application process.