Graduate admissions committees take letters of recommendation seriously because they provide information about you beyond the objective information that they can glean from your GRE scores and grades. These letters offer an overall account of your academic abilities and promise, and may weigh in a lot in the committees’ decisions for admitting you. They ought to speak about a host of factors that indicate your potential for graduate school work such as your intellectual ability, motivation, integrity, work ethic, creativity, capacity for independent thought, communication skills, research experience, general and special knowledge, leadership, and ability to work with others. As such, it is very important to choose recommenders who can describe you extensively and very positively on those elements. They must have had considerable contact with you and have been involved closely in your education, research activities, or practica/internships. Do not ask letters of recommendation from those who hardly know you academically, or those whose involvements with you are not within the academic context, including public officials, ministers, or therapists. Likewise, avoid those who will be perceived as being unable to give an objective portrayal of you, such as family, relatives, or friends. Lastly, do not ask letters from those who you anticipate will not give you a positive evaluation, or those who you believe will only harm your application.
Once you have picked out potential references, do not simply ask if they are willing to write a letter of recommendation for you. Ask if they believe they know you enough to write a strong one for you. Some professors may ask you to complete a form that they have created to gather more specific information about your goals, accomplishments, and academic interests. If the person you ask doesn’t use a unique form, you can use the Psychology Department’s standard form.