I had to submit my application to UGA, and fast. Plus, let’s not forget MSU. That deadline wasn’t too far behind either. Thankfully, step one was done; my official transcript and GRE scores were already in to both schools. The most daunting tasks – getting letters of recommendation and writing my essays – were looming ahead.
I had the least amount of control over the letters of recommendation, so I started with those. I was a good student at UMD, but I must admit that I did not have a close relationship with many of my professors. I tended to be the quiet student who took notes and did well on the exams without much commotion. I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t go to office hours. And I didn’t write a thesis or do an honors project.
I did, however, do an independent research project for class credit my senior year. The same professor who supervised my research also taught 2 of my other classes. I hadn’t kept in touch (I’m two years out of school now), but with high hopes that he remembered me fondly, I started with him. I held my breath and released a great sigh of relief when he said he would be happy to help. One down.
For my second letter, I turned to my eighth grade earth science teacher. Now, let me point out that in general, it is not recommended to revert back to high school for graduate letters of recommendation. By the time you are applying to graduate school, you should have built enough relationships with college professors to get the job done. And here I was, going back even further than high school – to middle school! What was I thinking?
If you look back to my first blog post, you will remember that I initially interviewed someone in the field of broadcast meteorology who inspired me to pursue this path; yeah, that was my eighth grade earth science teacher. Not only was he my favorite teacher, but he also works as an on-air meteorologist for the local news station. He knew me, he knew I was a great student, he knew the field, he knew why I wanted to go back to grad school, and we had kept in touch over the years. Would I typically recommend going back to your middle school teacher for a letter of recommendation? No. But it made sense for me, so I took the chance. Two down.
For my third letter of recommendation, however, I was at a loss of what to do. I knew it had to be another college professor this time. I was close to a few professors from my days as an Arts Scholar… but I didn’t think a letter from an English professor, a German professor, or a Theater Lighting professor was quite what they’d be looking for in an MS applicant (S standing for Science, not Arts!).
I talked to one of my best friends from college to see if she could help me think. She did have one idea… our Intro to Environmental Science professor. He was a great guy, and it was clear from the one class we shared that he truly cared about helping his students. He did not know me personally, because it was a lecture of about 150 students. But I thought it couldn’t hurt to get in touch.
I started off my email by saying I was an old ENSP101 student. I told him how much I enjoyed his class, and that his teachings had stuck with me over the years. Then I explained to him my future plans, and said that a positive letter of recommendation from a professor in the physical sciences would mean a lot to me. I attached my unofficial transcript so he could see that I did well in his class (not an easy class to pull of an A in, even though it was intro level), and I hoped for the best. As my friend had anticipated, he was more than happy to help. Three down!
Most schools nowadays automatically send electronic forms to your recommenders when you apply. Since I had not yet submitted my complete application, however, I had to ask all three to email their letters directly to the admissions coordinator at UGA. Dr. Smith notified me as, one by one, they came in. For better or worse, I was feeling very good about my choices.
Next, would I be so lucky with my essays?
Rachael has a B.S. in Geography from the University of Maryland and is currently applying to graduate school for broadcast meteorology.
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