Recommendations Part 2: Asking For A Recommendation
While there is a fine line between asking for a recommendation and telling your recommender what to write (hint: requesting anything specific is a big no-no) there are steps you can take to help your recommender write a good recommendation.
The first thing to remember is that this person is doing a favor on your behalf. The second thing to remember is that this person is probably exceedingly busy. Any steps you can take to be gracious and ease their burden will help them write you a recommendation. The easier you make the process for them, the better your recommendation will come out.
Step 1: Ask the person you have selected graciously.
At minimum you should do this a month before the first deadline. When asking them, be polite and make it clear that you realize this person is putting their time and reputation into helping you out. Explain why you feel that this person is a good person to write the recommendation and briefly explain what this entails for them. Before this person agrees, he or she should have an idea of how many recommndations they will need to write and when the deadlines are. If this person agrees, explain that within a week you can provide them with materials to help them in this process.
Step two: Prepare a packet or letter for your recommender.
As discussed, your recommender is a person who is likely very busy. They may have a family, a stressful job, and a host of other tasks they need to get done. Like any student, they are going to put this off so they can watch TV or spend time with their family and friends. If you can prepare materials for them, then they will have an easier time recalling what to write about. It is also your chance to influence what they write.
First, you should write a letter that briefly (and humbly) outlines your strengths and accomplishments, as well as areas where you have improved. Also, explain why you want to apply to certain schools. If a school is a good fit for you or has a program that suits your talents, the recommender can steer the recommendation accordingly. In this letter, also include the deadlines and details of how to submit the recommendation. Finally include any materials you may have that will jog their memory of your work. Include a paper or exam, as well as a transcript. Don’t inundate them with materials; just show them the highlights. The key through all this is to make it easy for them.
Step three: Follow up with your recommender
If your recommender has not submitted anything within a week of the deadline, send them a short and polite email reminding them. If a day or two away from the deadline nothing has been submitted, remind them again. Don’t bother them relentlessly explaining how incredibly important this- they likely have it on their calendar and realize this. But it is OK to send a quick reminder to make sure the work gets done.
Step four: Thank your recommender
Once they have submitted their recommendations, make sure you honor the time and effort they expended on your behalf. Depending on the relationship, a hand-written thank you card is appropriate. If you are very close with the person, then some homemade cookies or something simple that they will enjoy is enough. It is the thought that counts so avoid gift certificates or even cash (yes some people do this). Finally as you hear from schools, make sure you tell your recommender. They wrote the recommendation because they have invested time into you and want you to do well. They want to know what comes of your application too!
This article is titled, “Recommendations Part 2: Asking for a Recommendation.” It was written by Jon B. who is a writer for Top Test Prep’s team.
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