*A special thanks to Dr. Eurie Dahn and Dr. Brian Sweeney for their insightful contributions and time spent collaborating on this post.
A common complaint of college admission offices: too many generic letters of recommendation that go unnoticed and not enough personal, strong letters that grab the attention of the reader.
Here are some helpful tips to ensure the BEST letter of recommendation possible!
When thinking about applying to a Graduate school or a Doctoral program, you can take a few important steps prior to the application process. The English faculty here at The College of Saint Rose encourage you to utilize their accumulated knowledge and support as a resource for your post-graduation planning. Make an appointment with a professor you have a rapport with and discuss your ideas and future plans. Every school and program in English Studies offers different options, and many of the faculty are familiar with regional, as well as national programs and can help guide you towards the right fit.
Once that meeting(s) has taken place, the first e-mail requesting the letter of recommendation should be sent 6-8 weeks BEFORE it is due. Graduate programs will ask your recommenders to assess your enthusiasm and commitment. Their responses are often based upon the planning and preparation they observe through the initial steps of your request for a letter. So, ask as early as you can and make the process as easy as possible.
*It’s important to ask a professor that knows you and your work well. If this is a field of study you are interested in pursuing, it should not be difficult to acquire 2-3 letters that provide a comprehensive perspective of you as a student and as a person.
*Waive your right to read the letter, always.
*The subject line should read: Letter of Recommendation for (your name)
*Let the individual know in the first sentence what the purpose of the e-mail is. So, in other words, directly request the letter. Instead of just asking for a letter of recommendation, ask for a strong letter. This is mutually beneficial, as it guarantees the effective letter you are looking for and it also provides a comfortable way for a professor to decline the request.
*Keep the first e-mail brief. Provide basic, memory jogging information about yourself (year of study, major, classes taken with that professor, etc.) Explain the reason you need the letter (specific school or program), why you are asking this person in particular (emphasize qualifications), and make the due date clear.
*MOST IMPORTANTLY: never assume the letter will be written!
*The second e-mail should contain all the materials/information needed in order to write the letter. You want to make this process as seamless as possible.
*Remind the professor about anything specific you think is important to consider when writing this letter. (Interests, accomplishments, guidance with content is fine, but avoid framing it as a direction). Provide more details about why you need the letter, why it is important, the audience, your end-goal, etc. Include the due date in this e-mail as well.
*Provide a stamped envelope or articulate a plan to pick up the letter. Make it clear what the steps will be in advance.
*As an attachment, send your resume, personal statement, and a paper that you wrote in that professor’s class.
*Show appreciation by making sure to thank the professor.
*1-2 weeks before the letter is due: send a thank you e-mail and a reminder about the due date. (This is helpful and is not annoying)
Every professor would probably like to help students out by writing glowing letter of recommendation after glowing letter for everyone. Unfortunately, as with anything in life, this would work to diminish the value of all the letters, even
those that truly deserve the merit.
So, if your request is denied, do not fret! It doesn’t mean that you are not destined to pursue whatever dream you have in mind; perhaps, this particular person is not the best individual to write you the letter that you will need to succeed. There are many relationships we make during our years of school. Think back and reconnect with professors that saw you at your best!
Check out the linked list of sources below for additional information and good luck!