What are letters of recommendation typically for?
A recommendation letter is written by someone who can recommend your professional or academic performance. Because the writer is personally recommending you, the letter can add favorable weight to your reputation. It shows that you have the personality, character traits, and abilities to succeed in the program or role you’re applying for.
Academic recommendation letters are usually for college applications, scholarships, or fellowship programs. They are often sent to admissions officers as part of the application process. These letters provide additional information about your academic achievements and talents.
Letters of recommendation vs. references
A reference letter is more general in nature than a letter of recommendation. It is a broad assessment of skills and experience. Reference letters are usually addressed “To Whom It May Concern” rather than a specific person.
Each reference should include the contact information of people who have agreed to vouch for your character and skills. For references, you can ask former employers, supervisors, business contacts, mentors, clients, teachers, lecturers, or faculty members.
A letter of recommendation also covers a person’s work ethic, attitude, and suitability for what they are applying for. It is a unique letter written based on the writer’s personal experience with you.
A good letter of recommendation is often stronger than a reference because the writer is recommending you for a certain job or program. These letters are addressed to a specific recipient, such as the hiring manager of a company.
Choosing the right person to write your letter of recommendation is essential. While it’s ideal for them to be a professional in their field, what’s more important is their relationship with you. Choose someone that has an understanding of your personality and career aspirations.
It’s also preferable to have a diverse group of people vouching for your abilities. If the same person writes your letter of recommendation and acts as a reference, this could appear as though you do not have enough people willing to attest to your skills and personality.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
Asking a teacher or professor to write a recommendation letter
Classwork: It can be beneficial to write a summary document outlining classwork, grades, and achievements so that the professor can reference it when writing the recommendation letter. A professor who teaches hundreds of students is going to need something to look at when they start to write a letter.
A resume: Including a resume can be helpful for the request of a recommendation letter. It can show the professor what career path the student wants to take. And what they are trying to communicate or convey to future employers through prior work experience, skills, and more.
A deadline: Asking a professor to complete the recommendation letter by a certain date can ensure that the student receives the proper recommendation on time. This can ensure that the student doesn’t miss the opportunity to submit the job application before waiting for the professor to complete the letter. This can be especially helpful if using the recommendation letter for a graduate study program or scholarship request.
Be sure to check school policies on asking for letters of recommendation. Some professors, teachers, and institutions force the student to submit a recommendation form. This form puts a formal request to the professor to ask for a letter of recommendation.
Key Takeaways for Recommendation Requests
- Ask a teacher (or two) who knows you well and in whose class you excelled. The better relationship you have with your recommender, the more insightful your recommendation letter will be. It helps if the teacher is known to be a strong writer, too!
- Request your reference letters in person. This adds a personal touch and shows respect.
- In addition to telling your recommenders your deadlines and important logistics, give them thoughtful reflections on your values, goals, and accomplishments on your brag sheet. Take time with this, as it could be a huge aid as your recommenders write your letter.
- Thank them for helping you apply to college, and let them know where you end up!
Perhaps the most important takeaway is that letters of recommendation are important, as are the connections you have with your teachers and counselor in high school. Approach this part of your application with a plan, and express your appreciation of your recommenders’ role in helping you get into college. All this commitment and goal-setting is definitely the kind of thing you could put on a brag sheet.
In order to add recommenders to the Common Application, first you have to respond to the FERPA waiver. Read all about what it means and how it affects your right to access your letters of recommendation.
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Rebecca graduated with her Master’s in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.
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