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Asking for Letters of Recommendation

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One of the most difficult things that I have had to do during the application process for colleges is to ask for a letter of recommendation from my professors. By nature, I am a sit-in-the-back-of-the-class-and-hide-kind of girl. This doesn’t help when it is time to hope that a professor remembers me, and can provide an accurate representation of what I am capable of. It is something that I have always put off until the absolute last minute …or about ten years after I have left the professor’s class. In fact, in the past this has been the major stumbling block with my postgraduate applications.

Obtaining letters of recommendation is a necessary evil in the college application process, but if handled incorrectly, it can make or break your entire application. Start planning early, and be sure to follow the steps below in order to make the process as painless as possible.

• Ask before you leave the professor’s class – if you leave his or her class without asking, there is a chance that he or she may not have a clear picture of you – or remember you at all – if you wait past the end of the semester.

• Be respectful of the professor’s time – do not catch her in the hallway after class, or approach her at the start of class. These are hectic times and will not provide for the best conversation.

• Call and schedule an appointment to speak to the professor in person. Definitely do not send an online link to the professor without asking if it is alright in advance.

• Share your objectives with the professor, and how they might best be met. The more that she knows about you, the better the recommendation letter. You will also be helping the professor by filling her in on how she can write a letter that best suits your objectives. Discuss everything from your goals for graduate or postgraduate study, your interests, career objectives, and why you think that she is best suited to write your letter.

• It is customary to give the professor a month’s notice in order to write a letter of recommendation. The goal is a letter that “wows” admissions boards, and providing a shorter deadline will possibly thwart that goal. Plus, a shorter time period demonstrates a lack of respect for the professor’s busy schedule.

• Make sure that the professor has all essential information: the programs of study to which you are applying, the application deadlines for each of those programs, your transcripts and essays, and an addressed, stamped envelope. It is advisable to prepare a packet for each program (with copies – not originals) and hand it to the professor.

• Be on alert for signs that the professor is less than thrilled about writing a letter. It could be for any one of a number of reasons – she doesn’t have time, doesn’t feel that she could write a supportive letter, etc. In any case, …cease and desist! You are barking up the wrong tree …find another tree!

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