Recommendation letters can provide important information about you in the classroom or outside the classroom. They usually shed light on a student’s character, personal traits, motivation, or anything that is not captured in grades and test scores.
Follow the guidelines
Once you have selected your university or college, you will check what are the requirements for recommendation letters, if any. Sometimes you are asked to get a letter from a teacher who knows you well. If you have enjoyed a class or connected to a teacher, ask him to write a letter for you. Sometimes, you may be asked for a recommendation letter from someone who knows you outside the classroom.
Some schools will indicate if they accept additional letters or not. If they do, the general guideline is to submit one more recommendation letter. Look for someone who can write about a dimension in your life that is not seen elsewhere in the application.
Waive your access to the recommendations when you sign the FERPA statement. It means you agree not to see the letter, which also means are confident in yourself and giving freedom to the recommender to write freely.
Most likely a teacher will write to you about your intellectual ability, attitude and success. But he or she can also write about how you are with your peers in class, do you ask interesting questions, do you help your friends, do you articulate your ideas well. If you had worked on a project with a teacher, he or she will most likely talk about that.
If the school doesn’t specify who can be your sponsor, you should think of someone who has done something meaningful. This could be:
- an important alum of the university
- an important person, a former government official, activist, etc.
- sports coach
- religious leader
It is recommended to ask for recommendation letters at least 4 weeks before the deadline or longer. As the deadline approaches, check back with your referee, and remind them of deadlines. After all is done, check with the school to make sure they have received everything.
It’s wise to ask for letters from people who can talk about different aspects of your character work. For example, one teacher or professor can talk about one class or one project where you excelled in some way. Another person can talk about how well you worked with others, and how you steered a group in an original direction. Each letter should reveal a new side of you. It is perfectly fine to steer your referee in the direction you want the letter to go by providing guidance or reminders for them, which they can choose or not choose.
What information to provide to the person writing a letter for you?
We suggest you prepare a folder with materials and direction for your referee. First, make sure the person understands well what they have to do and what a strong letter looks like. You should provide:
- a list of the schools to which you are applying, their addresses, deadlines, mailing instructions;
- a list of the work, projects or classes that you would like to see discussed along with specific points you suggest he/she include in their letter;
- copy of your resume (link); and
- copy of your essay or statement of purpose.