Letter of Recommendation: Do’s and Don’ts

Letter of Recommendation: Do’s and Don’ts

Among the various documents that you need to submit to apply to a university, you need to submit letters of recommendation. As previously discussed on IvyTies, letters of recommendation are one of the most important parts of your application. Typically, you need to submit three letters. Pace University states that a recommendation letter should provide detailed evidence of the candidate’s knowledge, skills, and character. Preferably, the person writing the letter of recommendation has been in an academic or working relationship with the applicant. A letter of recommendation should provide sufficient evidence and detailed information about the candidate to help the selection committee make an informed decision.


 Fullbright suggests that if you are a current student and have not worked or volunteered in your community, all three letters should come from your teachers or professors. But if you have worked and volunteered in your community, they recommend one or two letters from professors and one letter from a supervisor at your place of work or volunteer. You can read the story of one of our students, Prajwal, a student at La Trobe University, who was actively involved in volunteering when he was in high school. There’s also Mohammed, a former student of Youngstown State University, and Rodolfos, a former student of National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, who both were only focusing on their grades.


Although the criteria to be addressed vary depending on the opportunity. Here are some dos and don'ts to keep in mind when it comes to getting strong recommendation letters:


Do choose your writers well


The number one question you’ll ask yourself is who should you ask to write the letter? Boston University College of Communication states that the most crucial factor is how well they know you. A good recommendation letter is written with detailed examples that demonstrate the skills the selection committee is looking for. Asking someone who knows you well to write your recommendation will help ensure that the letter is strong and convincing. 


The University of California, Santa Cruz, states that it is essential that you develop good relationships with some of your professors if you want to obtain strong letters of recommendation. Ask questions in class, talk with them during their office hours, ask them about their research interests, and help them out if possible. Doing so will provide you an opportunity to learn more, to get to know the professor better, and perhaps obtain an even stronger letter of recommendation.


In its tips to write a recommendation letter, Pace University suggests that professors write about how well they know the applicant at the beginning of the letter. So it’s very important that you choose someone who knows you well. 


Don't ask at the last minute.


Ask letter writers early. Seattle Pacific University suggested making an appointment to discuss the recommendation at least three weeks before the deadline, especially if you need multiple letters. Professors have very tight schedules and need ample time to write thoughtful and distinctive letters. University of California, Santa Cruz says that at the semester's end, most of your professors will be deluged with requests for letters, and yours will be another in the pack. Increase your odds for a more thorough, personalized reference by requesting it three month before the letter is due. 


Do provide full information to your professors.


Brandeis University says when you approach your professors for a letter of recommendation, come prepared. Ask for a few minutes of your professor’s time so that you can tell them what they need to know to write a strong letter. Seattle Pacific University also advises providing information about the position, department, and university that you are applying for. The more professors know about the position or school you seek to enter, the more easily they can tailor the letter toward the relevant audience. Bring relevant materials to your appointments, such as a description of the school you are applying to, application forms and other documents with deadlines indicated, and the relevant portion filled in. You also need to provide information about yourself. The more professors know about your past work, your extracurricular interests, and your aspirations, the more specific they can be about your talents and motivation. Bring graded papers from your course with that professor, and your updated resume. 


Don't forget to say thank you.


After a professor has agreed, send them a thank you note. Professors would appreciate it. That way they will be more inclined to write you another recommendation if asked again. Finally, let your recommender know if you got the job or the scholarship. The University of South Carolina says it is nice to let the professor know if their efforts were fruitful!


In conclusion, prepare carefully in advance. Try to obtain the strongest recommendation letters possible to make sure that you have submitted the best application possible. Good luck, and stay tuned on IvyTies for more guidance to help you get into your dream college!