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LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION

It is more complicated than you might have thought


(From the Essay Edge website) Most undergraduate and graduate school applications require two or three letters of recommendation. Depending on whether you are applying to an academic program or professional degree - for instance, business or law school - these letters should come from former or current professors, employers, or supervisors who are familiar with your work and performance. For academic applications, letters from teachers or professors are generally preferable to letters from employers. Admissions officers are looking to supplement their knowledge of your academic performance and aptitude - gleaned from your transcript and standardi ed scores - with concrete evidence that you are a dedicated and enthusiastic learner. !emember" most schools nowadays recogni e the value of a dynamic, diverse student body and are thus eager to fill their spots with candidates who have been actively engaged in both academic and e#tracurricular activities. $hese letters should reflect not only your participation and performance in the classroom, but also your initiative %for instance, through research pro&ects undertaken with the professor, through leadership in group activities, and through active contribution to classroom discussions'.

I. Asking for a Recommendation


(riting a letter recommendation requires considerable effort. Don)*+,-t &ust blurt a request to a supervisor or instructor you see walking down the hallway. .hoose your letter writers carefully, and plan out your timing and approach. Most importantly, don)*+,-t procastinate. 1. Ask someone w o knows !o" we## (hen deciding on whom to ask for a letter of recommendation, don)*+,-t simply think of those classes or pro&ects in which you have done well" think of those instructors or supervisors who are most familiar with your work and achievements. Admissions readers look for evidence of the letter writer)*+,-s familiarity with your work. (ithout this type of evidence, the letter lacks credibility and force. /t)*+,-s preferable to have letters of recommendation from upper-level course instructors. !emmeber that, although letters from senior professors are often more impressive than ones penned by teaching assistants, most senior faculty members receive large numbers of recommendation requests. Depending on the si e of your college, senior professors sometimes must teach a wide variety of courses. As a result, they seldom come into close contact with undergraduates. (hile you might be tempted to request a letter from a tenured academic superstar, refrain from doing so unless you know the recommendation will be strong. An impressive signature will not compensate for a lukewarm letter. /n that case, it)*+,-s much better to have a stellar letter from a &unior faculty member of teaching assistants who knows you well and can comment on your specific abilities and achievements. 0eep in mind that sometimes a professor will be willing to co-sign a letter by a teaching assistant, or will adapt and then sign a letter written by a teaching assistant. $. Ask ear#! Don)*+,-t wait until the last minute. /nstructors are invariably flooded with recommendation requests at the end of the sememster % as well as near application deadlines', and you don)*+,-t want your letter to end up &ust one more item in a long $o Do list. 1ikewise, be sure to take into account foreseeab-e busy periods at work and common holidays such as end-of-the-year vacations. /f you approach your instructor a few month before the deadline, you will avoid putting him or her under the pressure, and you gibe him2her plenty of time to ponder your performance. As the deadline approaches, you can always send the writer of recommendation letter a friendly reminder of the impending deadline. A quck email or phone call should do the trick - but don)*+,-t err on the side of pestering your letter writer. A not on timing" /t)*+,-s never bad idea to begin cultivating relationships with key instructors early on in your academic career. 3artcipate in class discussions, visit your instructions during office hours, and show an active in their research. .atching your instructor)*+,-s attention doesn)*+,-t necessarily make you a sycophant, and standing out among your peers might prove very useful later on when you actually request letters of recommendation. (hether you are in hogh school or college, don)*+,-t wait until your last year to ask for letters. /f you

took a fascinating course your sophomore yera and did particularly well in it, ask your professor for a letter at the end of the semester - even if you don)*+,-t plan on filling out applications until your senior year. Most professors %or rather, their secretaries and assistants' keep copies of letters filed or saved for future reference. /f you show up two years hence requesting a recommendation, that professor will already have a written record of your accomplishments. %. Ask &ersona##! (hen asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation, don)*+,-t simply send an email or leave a voicemail message. /t)*+,-s to your advantage to ask the person face-to-face- not only does this allow you to clarify any doubts about the request, it automatically conveys to the recommendation writer &ust how important this letter is to you. '. (o#"nteer information a)o"t !o"rse#f and !o"r &#ans About 4ourself" Many instructors and supervisors deal with do ens of recommendation requests every year. 5ven if you are a stellar student, they might not remember that smashingly astute comment you made on 0ant)*+,-s .ategorical /mperative back in March. Along with the letter of recommendation form and materials %see below', include a vivid reminder of your past accomplishments, particularly those with which your instructor or supervisor is already familiar. 4ou might include a resume, a pared-down version of your personal statement, and2or a relevant writing sample %preferably one written for that particular instructor, and one which earned you a high grade or evaluation'. About 4our 3lans" /f you intend to study agronomy and your instructor is under the impression you are planning on pursuing astronomy, your admissions readers might end up with either a hysterical or qui ical letter of recommendation. Make sure that your letter of recommendation writer is aware of your plans, even if they seem ha y to you at this point. 6tate your plans clearly" 7Mr. 8u man, / am applying to .olby .ollege.7 or 73roffessor 1eary, / am applying ti the 3hD program in biochemistry at the 9niversity of /owa.7 (rite down your plans somewhere that way, Mr. 8u man and 3roffessor 1eary won)*+,-t get confused. Again, handing in a concise outline or summary of your personal statement is not a bad idea, especially if you focus on your achievements in that instructor)*+,-s class or under his2her supervision. Also consider giving your instructor or supervisior a copy of your resume, which should remind him2her that you are an individual with both focus and broad interests. *. +ro,ide t e #etter writer wit a## t e necessar! materia#s

Most applications include specific forms for letter of recommendation writers. $hey often ask for both a written-out statement and a series of ranking or short questions. /f you are asking your instructor for several versions of the letter - for instance, if you are applying to a number of schools - you might remind him2her that the statement need not be written directly on the sheet itself but can simply be stapled to the form. Always provide your letter of recommendation writer with stamped enveloped. /f you are asking for multiple letters, it)*+,-s a good idea to organi e all the forms in one folder and include a cover sheet with a list of the schools for which you are requesting letters. !emember to include envelopes of the appropriate si e, and overestimate the value of the stamps %remmeber that the instructor might attach e#tra pages to the form'. 6ome applications require the instructor to return the letter to you in a sealed envelope. Don)*+,-t forget to ask the writer to sign across the flap of the envelope. Finally, you might consider providing the letter writer with a diskette for saving a copy of the letter. .hances are the letter writer saves these letters on his hard-drive anyway, but a new diskette might serve as a reminder of the importance of keeping a backfile. 1etters, after all, have been lost in the mail before not to mention in the admissions offices, which are flooded with mail around each application deadline and there)*+,-s always a chance you might have to ask for a second copy to be sent out. -. .ai,e !o"r rig t to read t e #etter Federal 1aw grants you access to your letters of recommendation, but many applications include a form where you can waive your rights to read the letter. (e highly recommend that you waive your right to read the letter when given option to do so. (aiving your right reassures the admissions readers that the instructor has written a candid letter - that is, with out the bothersome pressure of knowing that you might read it one day. 6tudies have shown that confidential letters carry far more weight with admissions

readers. /n addition, letter of recommendation writers are far more comfortable writing a complete, candid letter when they know the application will not have access to the te#t. /f you fear that the letter writer might not do &estice to your achievements or might include negative information - well, that)*+,-s a good sign you should not be asking that person for a letter of recommendation. /. Send a t ank0!o" note Always send your letter of recommendation writer a thank-you note after you know the letter has been sent out - whether or not you have heard from the school. Don)*+,-t wait long to do this" a week or two is a good timeline. :f course, if you are eventually admitted to that coveted program, you might want to call up your letter writer to share your good news and thank him2her once again. ;ever hurts to quietly share your success, especially with those who helped you to achieve it.