How to Get a Killer Letter of Recommendation

Getting a killer letter of recommendation can be a valuable addition to your college or grad school applications. While you cannot dictate exactly what will go into your letter of recommendation, there are many ways to ensure that you will get the best letter of recommendation possible.

Selecting the right person to write a letter of recommendation is an important decision that deserves some thought. Try to select people that have been important to you during your education. People who know you well will have more to say than a teacher or professor who knew you only through one class. Select your guidance counselor only if you had a close relationship during your high school years. A teacher who was a mentor throughout high school or a professor who served as your adviser throughout college will be in a good position to write a good letter of recommendation.

In addition to choosing someone who knows you well, you may consider subject areas. For example, if you are applying to medical school, your undergraduate biology professor would be a better choice than your French professor. For undergraduate applications, most students will want to consider variety. Choose teachers who know you in different contexts and will be able to speak to your different skills and strengths. You want your letters of recommendations to make a cohesive picture of you as a student and as an individual.

It is always a good idea to give the people you select plenty of time to write the letter of recommendation. Make time to go see them in person to ask if they would be willing to write the letter in the first place. Discussing it in person will give you a chance to let them know more about your goals and why it would mean a lot to you to receive their letter of recommendation. Planning ahead will ensure that they have time to write the letter you deserve. Follow up with a reminder visit, phone call, or email if you or your guidance counselor have not received the letter within a week or two of the deadline.

Finally, don’t be shy about telling the person writing your letter of recommendation more about what you want to convey in your application. You can frame this more as a discussion about your future goals, but it is also a way to help them know how to best frame your letter. Your teachers and professors want to write the best letter possible, so giving them more information is always appreciated. You can also let them know that they can always ask if they have questions as they write your letter. Let them know that you appreciate their work and be sure to thank them and keep them updated on your application process. These are often the people who you want to remain engaged in your education and to keep as mentors in the future.

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