As the director of the Clinical Science Doctoral Program in Speech-Language Pathology in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders, I am no stranger to applications and reviewing material for programs like Pitt’s Audiology (AuD) and Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) programs.
Letters of recommendation (LORs) can sometimes be a stress point for applicants to graduate programs. There are lots of different questions you might have – and the goal is to address them here!
Let’s look at some common questions with clear answers:
1. How many letters do you need?
a. You’ll need a minimum of three LORs for our programs. However, the Communication Sciences and Disorders Centralized Application System (CSDCAS) will allow you to have more recommenders. Usually no more than four are necessary.
2. When are the letters due?
a. Letters are due by the application deadline which is January 15 each year.
b. Note that it is the applicant’s responsibility to make certain that the letters are in the system. Although you cannot read the letters you have requested in CSDCAS, you can see if a recommender has completed the evaluation for you. It is your responsibility to confirm that your letter writers have submitted their recommendations. The program will not do this for you and most programs will not notify you of an incomplete application. Think of this as a test of paying attention to the details that matter!
3. Who should you get to write your letters?
a. Think about it -- you are engaging on a path of rigorous study in graduate school. You’ll want recommenders who can speak to your aptitude to do just that.
b. We recommend that at least two of your letters come from college-level instructors in your major with whom you have taken a course.
c. The third letter could come from a college-level instructor, or another person who can speak to your ability to engage with both rigorous academic and clinical programming.
This leads us to questions where you will have to step up and engage:
1. What are the admissions committees looking for in these letters?
a. Part of this will depend upon who is writing the letter and what they know about you.
b. Picture two different scenarios:
i. In the first one, a college-level instructor writes a short letter such as, “The student earned an A in my course and was in the top 10% of the class” as the main message of the letter. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
ii. But now imagine something like this, “The student earned an A in my course and was in the top 10% of the class. They engaged with the lectures by… They demonstrated leadership in class group projects by… They visited my office hours and asked questions that revealed deep learning and synthesis of the material…. They volunteered to collect research data in my lab… I’m aware of their volunteer efforts with…” and so on.
c. Suddenly, an admissions committee knows much more about you and what you bring to the program.
2. How do you get detailed letters like these?
a. It starts by engaging in the classroom (and other ways) with your professors and instructors. We can’t prescribe exactly what you should do because every application looks different. But it is apparent when a recommender really knows you and your work, versus when you simply attended class. And remember, this is why you have three letters of recommendation! Some writers may be able to write more than others about different elements of what you bring to a future graduate program. Think strategically about who should be writing for you, and what they might contribute.
3. How can I make certain that a recommender knows everything about me?
a. We recommend you formally meet with your letter writers. When you meet, plan to talk about how you have demonstrated your commitment to your future career. To get that done, have a resume, unofficial transcripts, test scores (where applicable) and other lists of your related activities (whether volunteer or paid) at the ready. This will help you talk about yourself and the different ways you have engaged to demonstrate your commitment to your future career.
Although there is no formula or guarantee regarding letters of recommendation, making certain that letter writers have the most information about you and your career path is sound advice, regardless of the program you find yourself applying to in the future!
Do you have other questions about the AuD and SLP application?
You can reach out to our enrollment specialists for more information at email@example.com.
Mark DeRuiter, MBA, PhD, CCC-A/SLP, F-ASHA
Vice Chair for Academic Affairs and Professor, Director of the Doctor of Clinical Science in Medical SLP
Published October 3, 2023
Updated October 5, 2023