Monday, September 17, 2012

Five tips to getting a great recommendation letter, everytime

After a speech I just did in Iowa (like literally 5 minutes ago), a professor asked me if I would focus on the part of my book where I teach how to approach professors about recommendation letters when I give my student speech (which I'm about to do - yay).

She said she loved that part because she gets so many requests years later, and can't remember the students, and they don't give her all the information she needs to write the letter and send it to the right place.

At first glance, recommendation letters seem like an annoying thing you have to do for scholarship and admission applications. But they can be the most powerful part of your application. And the way you approach your professor about writing one can be the difference between getting where you want to go, and not.

So below are my top five tips to get a great recommendation letter -everytime - that will lead you to scholarship money and the transfer universities of your dreams:
  • Don't wait until you need a recommendation letter to talk to a professor. Meet every professor during their office hours early and often to ask for advice and build a genuine relationship. You never know who you will need to write you a great letter later.
  • Sit in the front row and do your best in class. Instead of having to "remind" the professor who you are, you want to be such a great student that they know you instantly by name.
  • As soon as you know you'll be applying for a scholarship, transfer university, or graduate school, figure out the professors who know you best and ask them ahead of time if they can write a letter, even if you know you won't need the letter for months. Then ask them to tell you their preferred method of receiving the directions and when they'd like you to remind them about it again.
  • The rule of thumb is to give the professor at least two weeks notice before you need a letter. This is good, but the earlier the better. If you find out about a scholarship you want to apply for late, ask a trusted professor in person.
  • When you email the professor, ask if they have time to write the letter (don't assume they owe you) and don't leave any of the following details out. If you do, the professor will feel annoyed, and that's not the mindset you want them to be in when writing about you:
    • What you're applying for
    • When the letter is due
    • What class you had with them and when
    • Any special projects you want them to mention as relevant to the application
    • A resume
    • Any special things you were involved in that they helped you with or saw directly your impact on the campus
    • How they should send the letter (e.g. email, snail mail, scanned and emailed, on a website, to the university, directly to you, etc?)
    • Whether or not the letter needs to be signed and on letter head
    • A word limit for the letter if applicable
    • A stamped and addressed envelope if the application requires them to mail the letter directly
Most people get the best jobs and opportunities because someone else recommended them. Starting these habits early will serve you well both in college and in your career.

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