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Letters of Recommendation

Most faculty are asked to write several letters of recommendations every semester. Getting them all done takes time and organization. Do what you can to make their work easier. Give each person who agrees to write a letter or recommendation a summary of your G.P.A., test scores, courses taken, career goals, relevant work experience, job responsibilities, interests, and the deadline for each program. Provide envelopes (addressed and stamped) for each recommendation if your recommender will be mailing in the forms and letter. Provide a link to the on-line admission application if that's where they're to submit their letter.

The term, "letter of recommendation" is somewhat misleading. Usually, there are several parts to a recommendation:

Waiver of right of access

This is something that you sign. When you waive your right of access, this means that you won't be able to read the submitted letters of recommendation. It is very important that you sign that waiver. Favorable comments in the letters of recommendation are more convincing if you sign it. There is a common suspicion that non-waived letters (which might be seen by the applicant) are less objective and tilted in favor of the applicant.

Ratings

Some graduate schools include a chart the recommender uses to rate your skills and personal qualities. Take a look at those dimensions. Do the people who write your letters have a good basis to evaluate your creativity, motivation, or potential?

If you have not done anything outside a large classroom setting, the writer might not know you well enough to rate these items accurately. If you take seminars, independent study, or research courses, your professors will have had the opportunity to know you getter. If you work or volunteer in a mental health facility or research lab, the people there will know how you work.

Plan your remaining undergraduate semesters with an eye toward providing material for future letters of recommendation.

Recommendations

There is usually a place where a recommender will be asked to rank how highly they would recommend you for admission into a specific school and program. This ranking will reflect our best assessment of your abilities. The strength of the recommendation also reflects how well you match the particular school and program. You might well receive a very strong recommendation for a good program, but a slightly more restrained one for a top, highly demanding program.

Evaluation or letter

Here is where the writer can point out your special strengths or to place weaknesses into context. A common practice is to write a basic letter and then attach it (with appropriate modifications) to any rating form provided by the school. The writer fills in ratings and other information on any required forms, but the letter serves in place of an evaluation written on the form.

A very important part of the evaluation statement describes how well and in what context the writer knows the applicant. The statement should tell more than is visible in the transcript. The best letters make it clear that the writer knows the applicant well and has good reasons for strongly supporting the application.

Is there anything special about you that distinguishes you from the other applicants? Does the letter writer know about special skills, valuable background, evidence of interest, or other elements that would make you stand out from the crowd?