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How to Get Stellar Letters of Recommendation

April 18th, 2009 admin

So, you want to apply for a scholarship. Or med school. Or grad school. Or a really competitive job. What do all these things have in common? Clearly, you need some awesome letters of recommendation. And I’m going to tell you how to get them.

  1. Do Some Legwork. Not applying for med school for two more years? Perfect. Start networking NOW. The sooner you start making friends with the people you want to recommend you, the better your chances that they WILL recommend you. Early networking means your letter-writer will know you better, and (hopefully) be more inclined to be your advocate. Plus, they won’t feel like you’ve used them just for a letter, which, frankly, can make them just say no.
  2. Choose Wisely. If you want good, solid letters of recommendation, choose people with whom you have a good rapport. (Go for the teachers whose classes you have aced, not the ones who gave you a C+ on your final.) Also, stay away from asking family. Instead, try asking professors, employers, volunteer/church leaders, or long-time family friends (adults!) who work in your field
  3. Give Plenty of Notice. Remember how hard it is to write a good paper the night before its due? Don’t put that kind of pressure on your letter-writers! If possible, give them at least a solid month to write your letter (and give them a deadline before the real one in case they’re late!).
  4. Give them Specifics. Let your recommendation writer know exactly what you need in the letter, especially if you need them to focus on certain aspects of your achievements. If your letter-writer has never written a letter or rec before, be sure to give them some samples (campus career centers are usually a good source for these, or you can look around online) and let them know about how long it should be. A too-short letter of recommendation can be almost as bad as a half-hearted one.
  5. Offer to Help. Ask your letter writer what you can do to help them out. Do they need a list of your awards and achievements? Do they want to read your application essay? Try to give them as much assistance as you can so they can get your letter written quickly–and well!  Providing them with a one or two page resume of your list of achievements can jog their memories, inform them of things they didn’t previously know about you and make the task a lot easier.

Final Tip: Ask your letter-writer to send you a digital copy of the letter once it has been sent. Keep all your letters in a folder, so that if you need to apply to another scholarship or school, you can just send the copy to your recommendation writer to sign and send off. They’ll be more willing to help you multiple times if they don’t have to search their own computer for the letter again and again!

photo by asafesh

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Noelle  |  April 19th, 2009 at 2:43 am

    Great advice, I did all of this when applying for college, scholarships, and summer programs.

    It also might be necessary to give a little reminder about a week before, even if you asked a month early. It was surprising how many people forgot and then just wrote it almost immediately after I reminded them

  • 2. Kelvin  |  April 19th, 2009 at 6:37 am

    Well, I enjoy your tips. They are helpfully for every student; especially this special one on getting letters of recommendation. This is one area I need to start working on so I can get my professors to write one.

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