A letter of recommendation is an official document written by an academic (professor, faculty advisor, etc.) or professional leader (head of a department, volunteer coordinator, etc.) testifying to the applicant’s strength, capability, and suitability for a program. It gives the admission committee a leader’s perspective on the applicant and corroborates or negates the personal statement. The admission committee takes recommendation letters seriously because it is an assessment by a third party of an applicant.

When requesting recommendation letters, here are some things to note:

Choose Recommenders with Whom You Have a Good Relationship:

Recommendations hold a lot of weight, so you don’t want to ask that professor or boss with whom you have a weak or bad relationship. Your referrer should be able to speak powerfully about your character strength, highlighting leadership attributes, emotional and intellectual capability, and other relevant traits. Always use recommenders that can speak passionately of experiences and skills you have acquired that make you a good candidate for the program. It is always good to inform your referees of the competitiveness of the program you are applying for so they can do an excellent job of making you an outstanding candidate.

Start Early:

Your referrer probably has a job and other responsibilities, so you don’t want to give them short notice and put them under pressure. Some referrers may send in a generic recommendation in such situations because they do not have the time to write a personalized one. The best way to avoid this is to request reference letters early. As soon as you have decided to apply to a school, reach out to your referrers. Once you start the application, fill the recommendation section, inform them to look out for the recommendation request, and have ample time to fill it.

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Consider Drafting your Recommendation Letter:

One way to ensure you get all the important points highlighted in your recommendation is to write it yourself. You can highlight some relevant traits your referee may not have noticed and do a more thorough job writing a personalized recommendation letter. Drafting your recommendation also helps you tailor it to what the admission committee is looking for in applicants. Writing your letter is also a good compromise for very busy referees and those that get the recommendation request late.

Know the Content of the Letter:

It is good to know your recommendation letter’s content. If you do not have a copy of your recommendation letter before submission, you can politely request it from your referrer. One reason is that some of the content of the letter may come up during your interview. Also, you don’t want to contradict your recommendation in other parts of your application. Another reason is to know how strong the recommendation letters are and ensure that you use the best or strongest in subsequent applications.

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