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Articles / Applying to College / Recommendation Letters for 50-something Grad School Applicant

Sept. 17, 2011

Recommendation Letters for 50-something Grad School Applicant

Question: Thanks for this site. I am in my early 50´s and am intending to return to grad school (in Composition), perhaps at a major university. What type of recommendation letters will they expect from me?

Congrats to you on your plans to return to school. However, your question about recommendations is one that you will have to ask at each university to which you reply, because the answer can vary from school to school. I’m in my 50’s, too (although about to move out of them :-() and I know that most of my undergraduate profs and deans are now retired … or worse. So it would be impossible to track down anyone from that era who could write in my support. If you haven’t taken any colleges classes as a “grown up,” you may be in a similar spot.

In lieu of undergrad recommendations, your graduate school admission committees may ask you to provide a letter from someone who is familiar with your more recent musical accomplishments (conductor, collaborator, instructor, etc.). You may also be asked for a personal, character reference from someone who knows you well (e.g., an employer). If you feel that the required references won’t show off your strongest sides, you can also provide additional unsolicited recommendations, although you’d be wise to limit these to two.

So your first step is to narrow down your list of “target colleges.’ Their Web sites or application materials should provide instructions on seeking references. If these aren’t apt for you (e.g., they’re looking for undergrad profs … now long-gone), don’t hesitate to contact the college directly and ask for other options. It’s possible, however, that if you’ve been out of school a long time, the admission officials may suggest that you take a class or two at a local college (as an non-matriculated student) to not only provide them with current recommendations but also to ease your transition back to academic life.

Good luck to you as you navigate this new path.

(posted 9/17/2011)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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