Letters of Recommendation

July 31, 2007

I don’t know if this advice applies to getting letters of recommendation for jobs or what have you, but from my experience, there’s some things I would recommend you do:

  • Leave plenty of time. I asked for one letter a month before I needed it, and when I came to get it three and a half weeks later, the person had forgotten about it. Don’t be a jerk, but keep up some low-intensity pressure.
  • When asking someone to write you a letter, tell them what it’s for, and be specific, as to what scholarship you’re applying for, who sponsors it, what you’d get if you’re accepted, and so on. Tell them why you want that particular award, but not that same “I think I will develop as a person” baloney that everyone says when applying for anything.
  • Some people are going to ask you to write your own letter of recommendation and then they’ll just sign it. Save yourself some time and just write one for yourself ahead of time anyway. Trust me. It’ll come in handy if they forget about and ask you to do it at the last minute. Talk yourself up, but don’t brag, and if you can’t do that, pay a friend to write the letter. But check it for lies.
  • Weigh the people carefully: a well-respected professor that you know moderately might be better than a someone that’s your best friend but has no, for lack of a better term, social standing.
  • If you think there are any buzzwords that the application reviewers want to hear, suggest the person writing your letter use them, but in moderation. Don’t go overboard. Phrases like “good cultural ambassador for the United States” is probably a good one for a Fulbright application.

That’s all I can think of right now. I know that’s not entertaining, but maybe it’ll help one of youse.