Finally, you’re going through the application process for your shortlisted Unis (after what seemed like a life-time of Uni search and course analysis) and oh-oh. There it is — staring right back at you from the “To Be Submitted” list of your application — the Letter of Recommendation. And they don’t stop with asking you for one — no, they want two or three. Starting to stress out over the why’s, what’s, and how’s? Well, perhaps we could be of help here. Read on…
What Is The Point?
Post submission of numerous documents for the application process, you wonder, “What more could they want to know about me?” A recommendation letter will reveal the real you that test scores and grades may fail to do. It provides the University with interesting opinions of your personality and it shows that there are people who are willing to speak on your behalf. The right Letter of Recommendation will present you to the Uni in the best possible light — highlighting all your abilities and skills.
Bear in mind that there may be many applicants with similar scores and your Letter of Recommendation could make you stand out. Being another face in the crowd could cost you an admission here — so use this as an opportunity.
In The Uni’s Shoes!
For starters, tell us which of the two short samples appeals to you!
Letter 1: “Sandhya is a studious and quiet student who has received A’s on all my tests. She turns in excellent extra-credit assignments.“
Letter 2: “Sandhya is an intelligent student who engages me in conversation after class about books that she reads. She doesn’t have the highest average in my class but has a true passion for learning, and her paper on herbal medicines was thoroughly researched and very well-presented.”
Letter 2 — wins hands down right? That is very much the point we are making here. The Letter of Recommendation shouldn’t be general because Unis will receive many general ones like Letter 1 that have no meaning and serve no purpose. So how you word it is the key.
The Good Recommenders!
Figuring out which lecturer to ask is a huge deal as this could make all the difference to your future. So how do you decide whom to ask and filter out whom NOT to ask? Here are a few pointers:
- First of all, read your college application steps carefully. Have they asked you for recommendation letters from lecturers or teachers of a specific subject? Then get at it.
- You should ask your teachers, your family, or even your advisor about who they feel would make good references.
- You should choose someone who has known you for a considerable amount of time now but hold it right there — we don’t mean a teacher from your junior high days. Even though we know you may be tempted to. Someone from too many years back is not a good idea, as the Unis want to get an idea of what the present you is like. You can pick someone outside of your academic circle such as your employer or ask a lecturer who advised you to get into debate club.
- This one may be kind of a given but somehow students tend to overlook this factor: Is the lecturer you are asking enthusiastic about writing you one? If their response is somewhere along the lines of, “I will think about it”, or, “Maybe”, then there you have the answer — NO! That’s your red signal — when a teacher hems and haws. Try asking someone else because the last thing you need is a lukewarm letter that does no good for you. Still unsure what to make of their responses? Ask them directly if they feel comfortable with it.
- You thought that asking the lecturer in whose class you get straight A’s was the best choice? Hmmm…we can tell you that may not get you the best letter. Sometimes asking a lecturer, whose class you may have initially struggled and impressed later with your hard work and dedication, could be the best option you have at hand. This will really bring out the college potential in you — and that right there is what we need to get in that letter.
- Thinking of getting a letter from some political candidate whose office you may have volunteered in recently? If that person does not know you very well on a personal basis — guess what? It’s going to show and might be filled with fluff. Watch out — that’s the very last thing we want.
- One more thing that could absolutely and mercilessly kill your application is when a recommendation denounces your abilities — yikes! This seems to be happening more and more now as students don’t put a lot of effort into finding the right person to ask. Be very careful — this is your future at stake.
The Right Way to Ask!
True, you should follow up with your lecturers once they agree to write you one, but nagging is a big no-no. You have to consider the fact that aside from their usual classes and meetings, this is an added responsibility for them. They may be writing a pile of these for many students as well, so give them the due respect and time needed. It is advisable for you to give them the task one month ahead of time at least. Rushing them for a letter in a shorter time period won’t give you the desired results you’re looking for.
Inform them gently of the timeline and provide them any supportive materials you have such as your resume (briefly outlining your achievements — academic and non-academic.)
A Stroll Down Memory Lane!
Many lecturers may be familiar with writing recommendation letters and write for students every year, but it would be best if you also had a chat with them about some of your positive points. Just quickly refresh their memory by:
- Dropping in a word or two about your participation in class.
- Pointing out a few projects you’ve done that you are proud of.
- Talking about how you overcame challenges you faced.
- Stating how much you learnt in class.
- Asking them to discuss about the areas in which you have shown improvement substantially.
No Peeking Now!
If you are filling up an online application of a University in the USA, you are most likely to encounter this question, "Do you wish to waive your right to examine this Letter of Recommendation?"
We advise you to waive your rights, and no we don’t mean in a court of law — your rights to see the letter, that is! You’d be surprised at how much more comfortable the lecturer will be if it is confidential, in fact some may even insist on it — so go ahead and do it. Admissions committees give these letters more weight as the letter has more probability of being candid when the student involved can’t read it.
You receive an offer letter from your dream Uni! In all the excitement, don’t forget to tell your lecturer that you received an admit because yes, they do want to know! One more thing, make sure you thank them for the letter — you couldn’t have done this without their help as well. Always be thankful to those who have helped you!
These are a few of our suggestions to help you get a stellar letter and prove to the admissions committee your true potential! We hope you have found these tips useful. Drop us a comment or two and let us know if you have anything you’d like to add to this. We’d be happy to hear from you.
Also feel free to come to us for any other questions you may have about your study abroad quest. We are here to make your life easier! Get in touch with us now.