Letter of Recommendation: 5 Quick Tips

Quick Tip # 1 Write down each school’s requirements 
Recommendation letters are great qualitative pieces that provide your reviewer a deeper insight to your strengths and goals separate from grades and test scores. For these reasons, it’s important to prepare and carefully choose the best person to write your letter of recommendation (LOR). Before contacting potential recommenders, I suggest writing down the LOR requirements for each school. These simple steps will save you time and prevent unneeded stress during the LOR process. Below, I included a LOR chart that should help you get started:

Every school has its own preferences when it comes to LORs: some schools require letters from teachers in different subjects, a current teacher, or even a counselor. Therefore, organize and fill out your list prior to asking any recommender. Your list should include the school’s name, due dates, # of letters needed, and potential or confirmed letter writers. In the notes section, consider including submission links or the school’s address (if the LOR must be sent by snail mail). By taking time to note the requirements of each school, you will be better prepared and excited during the LOR process! If you think additional boxes should be included in the LOR chart, comment your ideas below!

Quick Tip #2 Who should you ask to be your recommender?
Reviewers read hundreds of letters of recommendations (LOR) during the review process. Therefore, it’s important to submit a strong LOR with your application. To get the best letter, reach out to mentors that you have worked with directly. It’s more advantageous to submit a letter from someone who personally knows you than to try to get a well-known individual to write you a less personal letter. Recommendation letters are a great qualitative piece of information that provides your reviewer a deeper insight to your strengths and goals separate from test scores. Therefore, reach out to mentors that understand your strengths and abilities and can support them with personal stories. Personal letters will enhance, tie together your application, and provide context to your capabilities and strengths as a student and an individual. 

Many schools require LORs from multiple mentors or teachers; for this reason, it’s important to develop relationships with potential letter writers prior to the LOR season. To develop these relationships, attend your teacher’s study hall or your professor’s office hours. Attendance can be as easy as asking for help with difficult questions on your assignments or reviewing certain challenging topics discussed in that week’s class. Attending weekly study sessions will allow you to build rapport with multiple teachers and increase your chances in securing a LOR during application season. Also, attending office hours or study hall sessions will improve your understanding of the topics in the class, which will benefit you in your academic career. If you have other ways of developing rapport with potential letter writers, let me know in the comments!

Quick Tip #3 The Ask
Now that you have completed your list of requirements and have an idea of who you’d like to write your letter of recommendation (LOR): It’s time to make The Ask! 

Nowadays, most students ask over email or in-person; however, there are many reasons it’s recommended to ask for a LOR by email:

  1. You can write a well-written message without nerves getting in the way 
  2. The Ask and Response will be in writing and dated (not just a verbal agreement)
  3. Prevents the recommender from being put on the spot and gives them time to reply 

Application season is hectic, and if you don’t ask in a timely manner, commonly asked letter writers may have already committed to other students or no longer have the time to write a strong letter. Therefore, it’s best to ask potential recommenders at least 30-40 days before the submission deadline. 

What to include in The Ask:

  1. Due dates & # of schools 
  2. Updated resume
  3. Latest draft of the personal statement 
  4. Work that you have done for the professor or teacher (e.g., essays, projects, papers)
  5. Potential meeting to discuss strengths and focus areas for the LOR 

Recommendation letters are great qualitative pieces that provide a deeper insight to your strengths and capabilities separate from quantitative pieces. Therefore, prepare your letter writers to successfully highlight your achievements and character when writing your LOR.

Quick Tip # 4 They decline or do not reply to your request
Unfortunately, sometimes a letter of recommendation (LOR) writer isn’t able to or won’t submit a letter on your behalf. If this occurs, accept their answer and thank them for considering your request. Although you may be disappointed, don’t pressure them to explain why they declined. LOR season is hectic, and perhaps, they are already committed to other students or they don’t have the time to write one. 

Sometimes a potential LOR writer misses your request. If this occurs, send a polite follow-up email about 5-7 days after the initial request. If there is no response to your follow-up email, don’t continue sending unanswered emails. Instead, refer to your LOR chart in Quick Tip #1 and ask your next potential recommender for a letter. 

Quick Tip #5 The Thank you and the Follow-up 
The most important email you can send during letter of recommendation (LOR) season is the thank you email. Your LOR writer wrote an incredible letter to help you achieve your career and personal goals; therefore, it’s recommended that within a week of submission you deliver a thank you note by email or in a handwritten letter. 

The second most important and also the most commonly missed email is the follow-up email. After application submission, sometimes it can take weeks or months to hear back from the school or job. Whether you receive good news or bad news, it’s important to keep your LOR writer in the loop. If you’re applying to multiple schools, send the follow-up email after you made your final decision. In the follow-up email, thank them again and let them know your future academic path and goals. 
These thank you notes and follow-up emails are professional and let you keep in touch with your LOR writers since they may need to write you another one in the future.

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