Aside from your admission essays, another very important part of your application package is the “letters of recommendation.”
These letters, required of graduate school applicants, recommend you for the program you are applying into. They are written by people who know you, your skills and competencies. They discuss your qualities and characteristics, with examples, if any, to support such claims.
To assure credibility, letters of recommendation, about two or three depending on the school you are applying into, are written by faculty and other people who have direct contact with you.
How do they look like?
What they actually look like depends on the school requiring it. Some letters of recommendation are pre-printed forms where the recommenders rate you on specific traits, then signed by them.
Others are pre-printed forms asking open-ended questions concerning you, the applicant. And there are those that combine the two.
Finally, there are those which are actual letters addressed to the admission committee on your behalf.
Why are they important?
Letters of recommendation are important because they are proofs that some people know you enough to say, “I know this person and this is what I think of him.”
It is your chance to showcase your strengths through other people. You did that for yourself in your essay. Your recommender do that for you through their letters.
Tips in asking for letters or recommendation:
Care should be exercised in asking for letters of recommendation. If not done right, they can do more harm than good.
Here are tips to remember in asking for them:
1. Be sure you know your recommenders:
The people you are asking letters from should know you well enough to give you a good evaluation. Your letters of recommendation can backfire if you choose those who hardly know you.
They, so to speak, must be able to vouch for you credibly and honestly.
2. Give them enough time to do it.
You cannot expect good letters from your recommenders, no matter how familiar they are with you, if you just pop in a day or two before you need these letters. Give them ample time to do it.
A week or two should be sufficient time to digest the info you provided and weave them into a story with a positive note.
3. Don’t feel intimidated:
Asking letters of recommendation from faculty can be challenging if all you did was to sit in his class of several other students. It is possible that your name, or face, did not register especially if you are the type of student whose seat made more noise in class than you did.
You can approach your dilemma two ways:
First, make a personal request. This should jog his memory, make him remember you;
Second, bring in copies of the work you did in his class. This, among other things, would be useful in writing that letter for you.
4. Provide them with all the information they need:
Some letters of recommendation are intended to address specific things about you as a person or your skills, character, etc. Provide them that information. Your recommenders cannot write a remarkable letter if he/she has nothing to go by.
To make it easy, sit down with your recommenders and discuss what the recommendation is all about and how the information you provided them could be used for full effect.
5. Get the right recommender for the type of letter you need:
Don’t give your recommender diarrhea by asking him/her to write about your work performance if you never had the occasion of working with them.
Whatever you want to expound in your application, so shall the kind of recommender you must get a letter from. If academic records, a faculty would be appropriate; for athletics, your coach, for civic action, your group leader.
These people can write convincingly and credibly about you if you choose them well.
6. Review your letters with your recommenders:
When it is done, don’t just get and tuck them in your folder and run. Am sure this is the tendency for most applicants who are green around the gills with embarrassment for having put to labor some people they are just peripherally familiar with.
When it is done, seek permission to read it in front of your recommender to see if what you get is what you need. Don’t assume that their status in life or knowledge in such things are far higher than yours. They can commit mistakes, too. They may not write in the tenor admission committee members agree with. They can misspell words or make grammatical errors.
Be sure that everything is in order before you profusely thank them and ask for your leave.