What makes a good one?
A good letter of recommendation.
- Establishes a credible connection between the candidate (you) and the writer
- Provides an articulate evaluation of your background
- Attests to your potential
- Describes you as a motivated, mature, and competent individual
Who should you choose to write one?
It is extremely important for students to look for the following traits in a potential recommendation writer.
- Availability. Some people are simply too busy to write an effective letter of recommendation. It is a task that rightly takes a lot of time and consideration. When comparing potential writers, rule out those who you know juggle consistently hectic schedules. Also, approach likelier candidates at least two months prior to your deadline.
- Familiarity. Your references don't all need to be lifelong acquaintances-in fact, too much familiarity could raise suspicion of bias-but they should have firsthand knowledge of your abilities. Ideally, your letter writers should be professional associates and former instructors who can provide a good mix of specific examples and personal anecdotes related to your achievements.
- Enthusiasm. Agreeing to do something and being excited about the project are two different things. If you sense that a potential reference is reluctant for any reason, your best bet is to approach someone else.
- Credibility. Graduate admissions officers will want to be sure that the person recommending you to the program a) has achieved recognition within his or her field-preferably the same field that you aspire to-and b) is familiar enough with your abilities to make a sound assessment of your potential.
- Writing ability. Unfortunately, the best advocates don't always make the best letter writers. Good candidates for the job are people who write comfortably and often.
How does it need to be delivered?
Most schools ask that letters of recommendation be signed, dated, and sealed. If the writer represents a particular company or another institution, they may be asked to print and seal the document using institutional letterhead. Also, the body text should include the name of both the school and the program to which you are applying.
Typically, finished letters are sent back to the candidate who then submits them to his or her coordinating administrator. On occasion, however, schools ask that letters be posted directly to them, so it is important to be familiar with the policy of each school beforehand.
By Hannah Roberts, staff writer