for Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are a key component of
academic and professional advancement, and cultivating good relationships
with faculty that will garner you high quality letters is of utmost
importance. We have earlier described important characteristics
of student/faculty relationships (e.g., punctuality and responsibility)
that will help you earn strong letters of recommendation. The
following are some additional tips regarding such letters:
- Be selective about whom you ask to write a letter.
Pick letter writers who actually know you as more than just a
student in one of their classes. This is best accomplished by
cultivating meaningful relationships with your instructors, as
described earlier. Ask the instructor if they feel like they
can write you a strong letter. If not, choose someone who can.
If you must select an instructor with whom you've only had a
class, then at least pick one who got to know you well and who
can speak to your personality traits, work ethic, goals in
life, etc. A brief and lukewarm letter of recommendation from
someone who doesn't really know you is almost as bad as no
letter at all.
- Meet with your letter writer to discuss your
application. The best letters of recommendation come from
people who not only know you, but also know what you are
applying for and can speak to your specific qualifications for
the position. You should therefore take the time to talk with
your letter writer about your application, ideally providing
them with a written summary of the job. A little advanced
homework on your part can dramatically improve the quality of
the letter that gets written on your behalf.
- Give your letter writer ample lead time. Nothing is
more frustrating for an instructor than to receive a request
for a letter of recommendation with insufficient time to do
the job properly. Advanced planning on your part is the key
here. Since college faculty are especially busy people, and
may be writing multiple letters of recommendation
simultaneously, you should provide letter writers with a
minimum of two weeks lead time (preferably more) prior to the
letter's due date. Anything less is equivalent to telling the
instructor that they should drop what they are doing to make
up for your lack of planning, and will likely not earn you a
very complementary letter.
- Provide the necessary forms, addresses and postage.
Do not make your letter writer work harder than they need to.
Be sure to provide all necessary information and forms
(including envelopes and postage) so that the letter can be
written in a timely fashion. Your thoroughness in this regard
will add to the positive impression of your instructor, and
will likely be reflected in the overall tone of their letter.
- Inform your writer about the outcome of your
application. Once a letter of recommendation has been
solicited, students often forget to tell the letter writer
about the outcome of their application. Instructors love to
hear about whether or not their efforts on your behalf bore
fruit, so be sure to inform them about whether you got the
position, scholarship, etc. Even if you did not, keeping in
touch with your writer is the kind of simple courtesy that
will continue to build a positive relationship and earn you
additional good letters in the future.
||Time to move on to the section review and quiz!
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