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Interacting With Instructors

 Asking 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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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