How to Source the Strongest Letters of Recommendation

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Whether you're applying to college, trying to get a summer research position, hoping to study abroad, or applying to a grad school program, you'll eventually need to ask for a letter of recommendation.

Here are my tips on how to get the best recommendation possible:

1. Have your resume ready.

This may seem obvious, but have your resume ready so that the person who is writing your recommendation letter can see all the things that you've done. This helps them come up with things to write about and have some more knowledge about you and your qualifications. You should definitely make the process of writing the letters as easy as you can.

The person you're asking probably sees hundreds of students a year and is asked for letters of recs all the time. They may not remember how you did in their class or what your interests were, even if you have had conversations with them during office hours. Help them out by providing some context to who you are! OCL will have another post about resumes later on, but you may want to include the following: your overall GPA (and your specific major GPA if that makes your GPA higher), your standardized testing scores (SAT, GMAT, GRE, etc.), relevant classes you've taken, work experience, volunteer experience, leadership experience, any accomplishments/awards you've received, and some interests.

2. Have your story ready (and write it out!)

Similar to having your resume ready, having your story ready helps your letter of rec writer understand why you're applying to X program or why you need the letter in general. It provides insight into what you want them to talk about. On that note, it's so important to know what the point of the letter is. Is your school looking for someone who is intellectually curious? Is your program looking for someone with demonstrated leadership experience? Do your research to find out what characteristics the person reading the letter believes are important. (LC: I also like to share the program description and add a few notes about how my specific experience with that professor/mentor lends towards stronger candidacy for that program. I've also found that professors can often connect you to past applicants/alumni of those programs for referrals or advice!)

3. Schedule a chat and be ready to chat.

I think it's super important to connect (either in person or through a call) with your letter of rec writer, so they know how important the letter is. If your writer has time, schedule a thirty-minute call with them just to go over your resume/your store/what things your program wants in applicants, etc. This is a good way to show your rec writer that you're serious about whatever you're applying to and it's an easy way for them to clarify any things with you that they may not have time otherwise to reach out about. 

4. Have dates ready.

Know when your letter is due and make sure you tell the person writing your letter of rec. I offered to remind my letter of rec writers a couple weeks before my letter was due and they told me that'd be helpful for them! Your letter of rec writers probably have other deadlines and things happening in their life. Sending them a reminder a couple weeks before the letter is due is a perfect way to make sure they're on track. It's also a good way to stay organized as well if you're applying to multiple programs with multiple due dates. I really like to use Google calendar to set up reminders for myself on when to do things like reach out to my letter of rec writer. You can also set up emails with a delayed send (though be sure to delete them if your letter of rec writer has already finished your letter!)

Bonus, write a thank you letter or a card or get a small gift! Regardless of whether or not you get into whatever you're applying to, it's important to thank your recommender. They took time out of their busy lives to help you and you should be grateful! This is also nice in case you need to ask them later on for another letter. They'll remember that it was a pleasure to help you.

Hope this helps,

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