Friday, January 20, 2012

Letters of Recommendation: What To Do When Someone Agrees to Write One for You

Once a person agrees to write a letter of recommendation for you, the most polite and helpful thing to do is follow these steps to making the letter writing as easy as possible. When a student provides this information to me, I start the letter feeling positive. It’s the frame of mind you want me to have before writing your letter. 

 I’ve listed my preferences below, and I’m sure these steps would be appreciated by anyone asking you to write a letter:

Send the following information in an email to me or print it and give it to me:
1. Your resume. I use it to remind me of things like interesting summer jobs you’ve done or awards you’ve won or organizations you’ve joined. The worst letters of recommendation make mistakes about your experience or are so vague that the letter could apply to anyone. I can’t rely on my memory alone for accurate information.
2. Full name of school and a web link to the program for which you’re applying. Sometimes, it's possible for me to explain to a school why their program is a good match for you. I base this evaluation on the school's program description, and I don't like to hunt for the link or worse, explain why you're perfect for the wrong program.
3. For each program, write one or two sentences about why this program is interesting to you. These sentences give direction about how to approach your letter. If you are applying for more than one program, write separate sentences for each program unless they are the same or very similar. You need to be specific. Which concentration or track will you choose? Why do you want to choose that track? After you get the degree, what’s your plan?
4. Electronic or paper recommendations? Identify which format each school uses for its letters so the letter writer knows what to expect. Schools typically use one of these two options:
a. Electronic: You provide the letter writer's email address and the school will send an electronic form
b. Paper: You fill out a form and give it to the letter writer to provide the recommendation For paper letters of recommendation, provide the following to your letter writer:
a. The form, with your portion signed and completed.
b. A business-sized envelope addressed to the proper admissions address.
c. On a Post-it note or scrap paper, write “My application is due______.” Clip the note to the form if it’s not a Post-it note.
d. Add a stamp so the letter can be mailed from anywhere.
Reminders: Because you’re future is on the line, it is fine to politely remind the letter writer about the letter one month before the application is due and two weeks before your application is due.

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