It's Recommendation Time

Now that you’ve identified your summer opportunities, it’s time to line up those letters of recommendation. While you know your relationship with each of your professors and who you think knows you best, I find there are some suggestions I have shared with students over the years that are helpful.


When seeking letter writers, think about what instructors you know that know you, as well. (Remember back in September when you were encouraged to meet your professor? This is one reason why.) You want someone who can speak to more than your grade and attendance record. Think about the class where you asked or answered questions and/or visited office hours. Also consider what type of contribution you made to the class.


I have written and read recommendation letters and know that I typically include and expect to read. They include how long I’ve known a student and in what capacity. I share a few academic and personal characteristics. When possible, I include a personal anecdote about the student that demonstrates their intelligence, work ethic, or personality. Lastly, I speak to the student’s academic, professional, and service activities. While some of those things I can get from a resume or my class records, the meat of the letter has to come from my interactions with the student. Not having those makes it hard for me to write letters. I'm just saying.


A letter of recommendation is more than a letter of support; it is essentially your instructor vouching for your ability to complete work and/or lean into learning how to operate in a particular industry. For example, I remember two very different students who were requested recommendation letters from me. One was an “A student with a funky attitude who was not a team player. The other was a “C” student who worked well with his classmates and would come to my office regularly to better understand material. Who do you think I received the stronger letter from me? First, I knew the second student better because of the time he spent in my office. Also, I could speak to his tenacity and ability to push through challenging situations. I knew if he didn't know something right away, he would take the time to learn. People like that.


You want to get the strong recommendation. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a strong letter if course material comes easily to you. It means you have to make an effort to get to know your instructors, so they also get to know you. If there is no one you know well, you still have time. Go to office hours and/or a study session before finals.


When you do ask for the , let your instructor know you take the recommendation and their time seriously. Whenever possible, the first time you ask a faculty or staff member to write a letter for you, do it in person. Ask at least a month, preferably 6 weeks, in advance. It may feel uncomfortable, but ask whether they can write a strong letter of recommendation. Trust me, a poor letter is damaging and you don’t want that. When they agree to write the letter, be very clear about the program to which you are applying and how you will get the information they need to them. Send them a link to the program, the submission link, your resume, a draft of your personal statement (if one is required), and the due date.


It’s not necessary to have the best grade in a class to ask for a letter of recommendation. It does, however, require a good attitude and willingness to put yourself out there. It’s all part of the plan to have a wonderful college experience. Keep that in mind and handling your business won’t be difficult.

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