As a part of the LSE application, students are required to nominate two academic referees who can comment on the applicant’s suitability for the programme and the academic and personal characteristics that make them a strong candidate for admission into the School. If you are struggling to choose the right teachers to write your references, read on for some tips on how to narrow down your academic referees and how to approach them.
Firstly, when you think of all the names of people who could be your potential referee, it is helpful to make a list! Simply jot down the names of anyone who has worked with you in an academic setting and can vouch for your skills and character- this could be a lecturer, dissertation supervisor, or even someone whose research project you assisted with during the summer holidays. After making the list, consider thinking about which of these people knows you best- Have they worked one-on-one with you before? Would they remember which tasks and projects they worked on with you? Another point to consider is the relevance of the work you have done with these potential referees, and how they would relate to the programme you’ve applied for. As an undergraduate student, I was a research assistant to various psychologists in my department, ranging from clinical tutors to business psychologists. However, as the programme I was applying for focused on Organisational and Social Psychology, I decided to choose my dissertation supervisor, whom I had worked with on my final year project on organisational stress, and who would be able to comment on my interest and passion for this area of study. Taking such points into consideration, think about creating a ranked list of references by order of preference.
Once you have shortlisted your referees, approach the first two on your list. As academics often have busy schedules, it is important to be mindful of their availability – I met one of my referees online and met the other during a lecture break. When meeting with your potential referees, make sure to concisely explain why you need a reference and why you want them to write your reference. A chosen referee may not be able to provide a reference on an academic basis, for example, if they cannot write it from an institutional email address or on an official letterhead, or if they are simply too busy to write one. But don’t worry – because you’ve made a list of all potential referees, you can always ask someone else on the list!
Once your chosen referees have agreed to write a reference for you, try to make the job as easy for them as possible. For me, this meant providing them with information about the programme I was applying for and gently reminding them of tasks and instances which demonstrated my passion and skills to study the course. Some academics may ask you to provide a structure for their reference email, and while this may vary from reference to reference, the general content of the letter needs to mention the referee’s background, who they are and the relationship they have with you, the capacity to which they have academically engaged with you (eg, teaching, mentoring, research), and why they think you would be a suitable candidate for both the programme and LSE. I also made my referees aware of the latest date by which they needed to submit their references; usually, teachers have a few weeks to send their references in after the application has been submitted. Often, due to a myriad of emails and posts, referees may miss the reference email or not respond in time. Make sure they are aware of the deadline and keep an eye out for emails from LSE regarding this.
And remember, once all is done, make sure to thank the referees for their time and efforts!
It may seem a bit daunting to approach people for references, but it is nevertheless an important part of the application process. Moreover, it serves as a good reminder of all the work you have done in your previous years of studying, and hopefully strengthens your application to study at a prestigious institution like LSE.
Read more about LSE’s advice on how to supply references.