Do you need a glowing recommendation for your scholarship or college application? Learn how to request a letter of recommendation that will impress the application committee in this guest post by New Milford, NJ tutor Matthew H...
Let’s face it, finding a teacher or professor to write a strong letter of recommendation is not exactly easy. It can be awkward to ask someone we respect and admire to help us in some way without appearing opportunistic or desperate. Regardless if you’re going to college, trying to get into graduate school, or applying for some position that needs a vouch on your behalf, these are some tips that will help you get the best possible letter of recommendation.
It’s Not About the Name
First off, you cannot ask just anyone for a letter of recommendation. A stranger will have little insight as to what makes you a good candidate for whatever it is that you are applying. Someone who knows you or your work very well, like a teacher you’ve taken a class with, is obviously the best choice. You might be tempted to have your high school principal or college dean or the company CEO write a letter on your behalf, however, unless you actually know that person really well, that title doesn’t amount to very much. You could have a world-famous professor write you a letter of recommendation, but if he’s never taught you or has no idea what you could bring to the position, then the letter will be bland and unimpressive. In fact, admissions boards will be able to tell right away how sincere a recommender is being, and if there’s a weak connection, then you don’t have the strongest argument to be accepted.
Establish a Strong Relationship
A teacher or supervisor you’ve directly worked with is the best choice because they’ll be able to provide specific details as to why you should be accepted into a college or nonacademic position. If you’re a college student, make sure you actively participate in class discussions, especially if you’re going to ask a professor of a large lecture. Get to know them well by attending office hours or speaking with them after class. They’ll feel more at ease with you and be better equipped to write on your strengths if they have that connection. If you’re in high school, then chances are you have a relatively small class size and the teacher probably knows you fairly well. Still, make every effort to answer questions and do extra work to show them how motivated and serious you are. In the work force, do not hesitate to go out of your way to make small talk with your colleagues and bosses; that face time helps them relate to you better. Caution: there’s a fine line between sucking up and showing interest. Be sincere with whatever you do and say. Do not wait until the last minute to build a relationship, either, because that will feel forced and contrived. Once you have established a genuine relationship, asking for the actual recommendation won’t feel so awkward, because it will be a natural extension of the rapport that you’ve built on with your recommender.
Provide Your Recommender With All of the Necessary Information
Once you’ve secured the recommender (and many times you need more than one), give them whatever directions are important for the specific program or role for which you are applying. For example, if you are applying to doctoral programs, provide your recommender with the complete list of schools that you are applying to, including the deadlines for each one. It may help to list them in order of which due date comes first. Also send information about any specific faculty member you would like to work with and specializations that may be of interest. While you should trust and have faith in your recommender’s abilities to highlight your best attributes, help them by being specific as to what is most crucial to the application at hand. Update them regularly with any changes to the process, so they will be able to submit everything in a timely fashion. Be sure to thank them!
Applications are an intricate process that relies on multiple factors to reach a decision. Knowing how to request a letter of recommendation is just one aspect that can create a compelling application, regardless if it’s academic or professional. No matter the outcome, following the steps above at least ensures that your recommenders have done the best they can to represent you well. If you do not receive the position you were hoping for, you might be able to learn from the experience and make a stronger case the next time around. Either way, start making those good connections for the future!
Matthew H. teaches a variety of subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ. He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here!
Photo by Cindi Snyder Re