Ah…I must admit..I love the sacred scent of second semester. The remnants of February 14th’s delectable truffles and the influx of teenagers in route to semi-formals sporting pristine corsages triumphantly signal the onset of spring. In fact, here in Southern California, spring never quite bid us adieu (last weekend’s torrential downpour aside), allowing us many an opportunity to bolster our coveted relationships with sunshine, flowers, and flipflops. Like the idyllic weather, however, many students tend to take their meaningful teacher and/or potential adult mentoring relationships for granted. Having finally settled into their academic coursework and knowing exactly where they stand, students oftentimes forget to acknowledge those perspective-shifting teachers who are truly in their corner: the Pre-Calc teacher who incited their love affair with logarithms and taught them that not all limits truly exist…that APUSH teacher who taught them how to weave divergent primary sources into lucid and compelling essays…that visual arts teacher who expanded the palette of their imaginations. Today I would like to remind all of you that these impactful teachers want to play a part in helping you as their students attain goals beyond the classroom and gain admissions into your sought-after colleges. Do not squander those opportunities.
This is what makes the beginning of second semester the perfect time to plan for letters of recommendation. Whether you are a 9th-grader preparing to apply to a competitive summer conservatory program, an 11th-grader thinking about next fall’s college applications, or a graduating senior hoping to land a killer internship during your freshman year of college, it’s never too early to start building relationships with recommenders. Below I will share with you a few simple steps to help you get a letter of recommendation that will make you stand head and shoulders above the competition.
1. Start The Process Early
Let me start off by saying this: At one point, sooner or later, you will need someone to recommend you for something. So, you might as well start building those relationships now. Pick 2-3 teachers, counselors, and/or community leaders that seem supportive of your goals and are enthusiastic about your success. Have a few people in mind? Great! Now, find opportunities to spend some meaningful extra time with them. Volunteer to help out after class, make appointments to see them during their office hours, and ask for opportunities to supplement your in-class learning. This is your time to show them how awesome you are! Don’t be afraid to brag about all of the cool endeavors you do in your clubs, your sport, or that quirky hobby you have. Let them know what your interests are, and ask them about theirs. The best letters come from those who truly know what kind of person you are, and feel a special connection to you.
2. Understand Your Competitive Advantage
Let’s face it, every time you apply to a new program you are competing with other applications. In a sense, you have to market and sell all of your positive attributes and find a compelling way to convey that which makes you unique as part of your application. It is important to make sure your endorsers are on the same page. Before asking for a letter of recommendation, spend some time reflecting on your strengths, quirks, and the unique qualities about you that make you a perfect candidate. Then, make sure you clearly communicate to your recommender that you would like him/her to focus on these aspects in the letter. It is important that applications are consistent and tell a cohesive story about you, so everyone involved must be on board. Many students find their purpose, passion, and what makes them unique through our unique Paving The Way To The College Of Your Dreams workshop. Contact our office for support in this process.
3. Create a Brag Sheet & Recommender Packet
After you’ve spent some time thinking about what makes you a stand out candidate, it is a great idea to write those specifics down. A brag sheet is like a resume that gives your recommender a clear understanding of your qualifications and skills. Providing this kind of detail for your endorser will only help him/her to write a strong letter that is not too generic and allows you to stand out! It may also be helpful to create a packet for your recommender when asking for a letter. This should include a cover letter explaining what the letter will be used for and any relevant details about your application, your resume or brag sheet, and the other supplemental materials you will be submitting with your application, such as essays and work samples. Your recommender may choose not to look through the whole packet, but the more information you provide, the easier it will be for him/her to write a glowing review of you!
4. Write Your Own Letter
Many recommenders, especially at the college level, are simply just too busy to write letters for the hundreds of students who request them each year. It is a great idea to have a recommendation letter that you wrote about yourself on hand, as you may be asked to provide it as a template from which your recommender can personalize. What an amazing opportunity to highlight all of the wonderful traits about yourself! If nothing more, writing a letter of your own is a great exercise in articulating your strengths. It will also help you prepare for interviews and email exchanges should the program you apply to want to follow up and glean more information before making a decision on your admittance.
5. Follow Through & Follow Up
In addition to providing your recommenders with plenty of time and clear deadlines, it is important to follow up with them to make sure that your letter doesn’t get lost on their to-do list. Don’t be overbearing about it, but one to two friendly reminders as the application deadline approaches can actually be extremely helpful to a recommender who has a great deal on his/her plate. Finally, once the letter has been submitted do not forget to send a thank you! A handwritten card, or small gift goes a long way to show your appreciation for an endorsement. Remember, many times recommenders are spending their own time to help you out without getting anything in return. Showing your gratitude will also help strengthen your relationship with your recommender and make it even more gratifying for him or her to help you again should you need another letter!