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LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION

What are recommendations for ? Recommendations are meant to provide a third-person perspective on you as an individual. While your grades/scores are supposed to represent your intellectual capabilities and your essay allows you the opportunity of presenting your point of view, recommendations by those who know you give the university an independent assessment of your skills and qualities. Unfortunately, a number of applications ask for elaborate recommendations that are frequently a burden on faculty and superiors. t!s not uncommon to hear of faculty asking the student to write his/her own recommendation and then editing them for effect. "his is even more likely to be the case in a work environment, where few would like to waste their time answering often absurd questions. n response to requests from visitors to our site, we!ve decided to provide some advice on how to make the most of your recommendations. Here's hat e! ""#h! recommend"""

#lease note that by no means do we endorse the practice of applicants writing their own recommendations. t put many students in a position they!d rather not be in. $ut the sad fact is that many applicants have little say in this matter. %nd even if you are fortunate enough to have people around you who are prepared to write up their own recommendations for you, there are certain aspects you could try to keep in mind. &ence this section should be useful for all applicants.

'electing the right people

&ow to go about doing it

Writing the recommendation yourself

LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
Se$ectin% the ri%ht &eo&$e to recommend 'o# ( (o they know you well enough )ou don!t want to go for someone who doesn!t remember your name. Which is why it!s always prudent to stick with immediate superiors or professors *in an academic setting+. ,ore importantly, will the university believe that they know you well enough. f the -./ of the firm where you interned is recommending you, make sure it!s clear that your interaction with the recommender is apparent in the write-up. "he University could very well question the credibility of a recommendation if it appears to have been manipulated. &ow much credibility are they likely to hold with the university. n academia, professors are likely to carry more weight compared to lab-assistants. n any case, make sure that the professional competence of the person recommending you is apparent. %re they likely to give you a positive recommendation %nd you want to be doubly sure of this. )ou may want to stay away from the unreliable ones. f necessary, approach the person and ask them upfront. 'ince they!re likely to have written

recommendations for applicants before, it!s not too much to e0pect them to understand your an0iety. &owever, use your discretion in case you aren!t too sure of how he/she will react. 1et some variety into your recommendations 2or multiple recommendations, look out for whether the recommendations are likely to rehash the same aspects of your personality. %s far as possible, get recommendations from people who!ve interacted with you in different situations. 2or e0ample, an engineering student would be well advised to get recommendations from a professor, a lab instructor and someone like a pro3ect guide. "he professor could attest to the student!s keen sense of class participation. "he instructor could focus on his/her skills in the laboratory and the pro3ect-guide on his/her flair for research and getting to the root of problems. -o-ordinate your recommendations with the rest of your application f the somewhere in rest of your application you!ve focussed on something like a particular pro3ect, it would be particularly useful to try and build on that by providing a recommendation from the person who guided you through that pro3ect. 4ikewise, if you!ve talked about your biggest achievement at work, how about getting your boss at the time to recommend you

LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
Ho to %o a)o#t doin% it

,ake a list of persons you are going to ask to recommend you. f possible, 3ot down a few e0tra names whom you could depend on in case of an emergency. ,ake sure they are willing to do so. "alk it over with them. 'ee if they are reasonably sure they!d like to do for you. $e clear that recommendations are a pain for everyone involved, but most so for those who have to actually write them up. 5o one en3oys writing recommendations. %nd so you can!t depend on someone who isn!t too sure he/she!d like to recommend you. ,ake sure they know what you want to do f they knew you were interested in marketing research and not finance, maybe they wouldn!t have said that you!d be a great asset to the finance class. /f course, the persons recommending you are often busy people, so you may want to give them a note alongside the rest of the material we!ve listed in our ne0t point. 'how"ime .ach of the persons recommending you deserves a copy of your resume. %long with that, give them the original recommendation form and a copy too. n this copy, give them points that you!d like covered in their write-up. f the form asks them to list an incident where you displayed leadership skills, it!d make it easier for them if you have provided them with a few incidents that you think would be suitable. 4et them do the descriptive part. )our 3ob is to make sure they remember a few relevant incidents. )ou could even attach a note saying that you!d rather they talk about your pet pro3ect, etc. Related ssues ,ake your timeframe absolutely clear. %nd while we!re on the topic, be considerate and give them a few weeks to prepare your recommendation. $e sure that you!ve given yourself a buffer of a week or two to make up for une0pected e0igencies. %lso clear up whether they!d like to mail the recommendation themselves or whether they want you to do the needful. -onsult the application brochure to make sure you!re aware of what your university prefers

LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
If 'o# are ritin% the recommendation 'o#rse$f

,ake them sound different Writing all your recommendations in the same style is 3ust asking for trouble. Remember that these recommendations will stay on your record for a long time to come. 'o even if you aren!t caught during the application phase, it!s quite possible that they!ll come to haunt you, say, when you!re begging for an assistantship. (on!t use too many superlatives. 5one, if possible. %nd never in pairs. 'aying that you!re the !most brilliant! student to have walked the halls of the college is poor .nglish and likely to result in that recommendation getting e0cluded if your transcripts don!t back it up. ,ake it believable "here!s no doubt that you!re the brightest student your professor has ever seen *like the do6en others who have asked him to recommend them+. $ut if your professor puts you in the top 78 in every category that he!s been asked to rank you, and your transcripts show that you averaged in the bottom 978 of your class, it!s bound to raise some eyebrows. 'o take it easy on those ad3ectives and percentages. ,ake sure you match up the assessments in the recommendation with the hard figures that your transcripts reveal. "ry and talk about aspects of your personality that haven!t been covered elsewhere "he recommendation really is a magnificent opportunity to do this. 'o instead of getting your professor to describe your entire pro3ect *which you!ve already talked about in your resume/essay+, say that he saw you grow during the year that you were assisting him on the pro3ect. &ow your already superior fundamentals in the sub3ect were reinforced by your having developed considerable finesse and accuracy in the laboratory. Refer to the essay writing part of this site "hink of it like an essay. n fact, it is an essay. 'o for god!s sake, give it structure and flow: and work on that content. "ry to get across outstanding achievements Read your resume and essay again. 'ee if this recommendation provides you with a chance to bolster some of the claims you!ve made elsewhere. -o-ordinate with your goals "hink of what you!d like to be doing in the near future. 2or e0ample, science and engineering students generally seek assistantships in research or teaching once they!re at their university. t!s quite likely that the person reviewing your application for an assistantship will look at your application recommendations. f someone recommending you has said something about your having presented a seminar on !$ig dams are e0amples of poor engineering!, or having conducted outstanding research as part of your pro3ect, it would substantially add to your chances of clinching the assistantship. Use discretion and good 3udgement 'ince you!re depending on others for this part of the application, your staying sensible is of utmost importance. .verything from scheduling meetings with the person recommending, to giving them a deadline, to suggesting what they should highlight in their assessment requires a lot of tact on your behalf. 'o stick you

What is a Recommendation Letter?


%s part of the application procedure every University will require you to send 9 or ; recommendation letters. "hese letters are recommendations from teacher!s/ professor!s who have taught you at school/ college. "his letter reflects the student!s academic potential and ability to successfully complete the degree at the respective 'chool/ -ollege. f you are an ,$% student with work e0perience and employer!s recommendation will be required. t is one of the several facets to your application process, for gaining admission and financial aid. %ll these factors will add up while the admissions committee is reviewing your papers. % Recommendation 2orm is generally mailed to you along with your application package, which the university would require your recommender to fill. .ach university has a different format for the recommendation form. 'ince each university has a set format for the recommendation form, your recommenders may find it tedious to fill out all the recommendation forms, hence they may give you a recommendation letter on the institution or personal letterhead. "he recommendation letter is a confidential document written by the teacher/ professor. "he letter is not supposed to be discussed with the student. )our concern should be whether the recommender would write a positive recommendation for you. f yes, then you can approach her for a recommendation. "he recommendation letters must be -onfidential. )ou must ensure that "he recommendation letter is typed on the institution/ teacher!s letterhead .ach copy of the letter has the recommender!s signature in /R 1 5%4 "he letter is enclosed in an envelope that is sealed *i.e. glued shut+ "he recommender has signed across the flap of the sealed envelope 2or each of your recommenders!, you must have <7 copies of the recommendation letter duly signed and sealed in envelopes.

What *ind of Information Is Inc$#ded?


"he content of a recommendation depends on the type of program to which you are applying, and the format used. "he type of degree program to which you are applying will make a difference in what your reference is asked to say about you. )our references may be asked to comment generally on your academic ability or specifically on your performance in coursework in a particular field. "hey may be asked to comment on your participation in class as well as your performance on e0ams or papers.

% highly research-oriented program will want to know primarily about your skills as a researcher. f you are applying for graduate study in an helping profession like counseling, your references may be asked to comment on your interpersonal skills. f you are applying for graduate training in a profession, e.g. $usiness, .ducation or 5ursing, your references may be asked to comment on your work in the field. 'ome programs have a form which they ask your references to fill out, answering short answer type questions, or asking your references to rank you among the students they have taught. /ther programs ask for the same information in an actual letter format. 'ome programs combine the two they ask your reference to fill out a form, and invite them to make general comments in letter form.

Who Sho#$d I As+ to Write for Me?


"his will depend somewhat on what information your references need to provide. f you are applying to an traditional academic program, it is good to have people who have been your instructors write for you. % professional program may ask you to have a supervisor or co-worker comment on your work. n any case, it is best to choose as references people who know you well enough to make specific comments about your ability. t is also important to choose people who will write positive recommendations. t does you little good if your letters contain negative comments about you. 'pecific comments on your performance in school or at work are also helpful. f your reference can write that you consistently =came to class prepared and asked intelligent questions that contributed to class discussion,= or =demonstrated foresight and initiative in implementing policy,= that will help your cause far more than ='tudent > was in my class, and did well,= or =,s ) has been employed here for three years.= %nother consideration is the reputation of your references. f you can get a favorable reputation from a professor who is well respected in your field, that will certainly strengthen your application. $ut if you can get a stronger recommendation from some one with less prestige who knows you better, should you use that instead? "his can be a tradeoff situation,and it can be hard to know which is more beneficial. 'pecific comments about your work from someone who knows it very well can easily be more helpful to you than a vague positive comment from a more famous person.

Ho Sho#$d I A&&roach Someone A)o#t Writin% A Recommendation?

,any professors are happy to write recommendations for their students. &owever, there are three important things to remember@ <. &aving someone write a recommendation is a privilege, not a right, so ask politely. 9. #rofessors are often very busy people, so it is best to ask early, and to get any materials *e.g. a recommendation form+ to your reference as soon as possible. ;. )ou need positive recommendations, so don!t be afraid to ask if a reference feels s/he can write you a favorable recommendation.

Sho#$d I Wai,e M' Ri%hts to Re,ie Recommendation Letters?


"he 2ederal .ducational Rights and #rivacy %ct of <ABC * FER-A+ gives enro$$ed students the right to view the contents of their files. f recommendations are part of your file, you are entitled to see them along with the rest of the information in your file, if you are admitted and enro$$ as a st#dent at that school. t is common practice for a recommendation form or instructions to ask the applicant to sign a ,o$#ntar' waiver of review rights, which means that you are giving up your rights to see the recommendations written on your behalf. "he key word here is ,o$#ntar'. f you feel strongly about it, you may refuse to give such a waiver. n my opinion, there are three good reasons to waive your rights to see recommendations@ <. t is commonly assumed that your references will be more candid in their statements about you if they know the recommendation will be kept confidential. 9. f you are not admitted to a given institution, you have no legal right to see the recommendations anyway, unless you are a currently or previouslyenrolled student at that university ;. f you have chosen your references carefully so that you know they are going to give you a good recommendation, there is little need to see the recommendation once you are admitted.

What If I Ha,en't .een in Schoo$ for /ears?


f your instructors still remember you and the quality of your work well enough to comment favorably on it, then you will have little trouble as long as they are willing to write letters for you. f they don!t particularly remember you and your work, it can be very helpful if you can supply samples of the work you did in the class to help the professor remember your work a little more clearly than simply

by checking the gradebook. would certainly offer to do at least that for any prospective reference-letter writer. "he possibility that you may choose not to go immediately on to graduate school is one more good reason to cultivate and maintain a professional relationship with the faculty at your undergraduate institution*s+. Deep up with the field and their research interests. "ake opportunities to ask them questions about their work. f you are genuinely interested in their work, it should be easier to get references from them.

How to get the best possible recommendation letters to put in your application packet for fellowships and scholarships
)ou have the grades, you have the achievements, you have a future. What you want is the scholarship or fellowship that will help you reali6e that future. What you need are outstanding letters of recommendation from some of your professors. t sounds easy enough. )ou!ve done well in #rofessor (oe!s class, #rofessor Eones has been your academic advisor for two years and you were #rofessor 'mith!s research assistant last semester. "hese people know you: they know your work. )ou assume that they will automatically write you a glowing recommendation to put in your application packet. $ut it!s up to you to choose the best people to write the letters and to make sure your recommenders have everything they need to write you the best possible recommendation letters. &ere!s what you can do@ $efore asking someone to write you a recommendation letter, do some research on the specific scholarship or fellowship and get your resume and statement of purpose in order. -onsult the application packet and see what qualities and accomplishments the selection board is looking for. -ompare your own qualifications to those sought and take notes. f your recommender asks for some backup information, you will have everything ready. #articulars count, and e0amples are crucial. )our recommender may remember that you were =a hard worker= but may have forgotten that you set up a new lab on your own. &e or she may remember that you are =e0tremely bright= but may have forgotten that you not only made straight %s in class, but tutored some of your fellow students to high grades in that class as well. )our resume and statement of purpose will serve as reminders of these details. -hoose the right people to write the letters for you. -hoose a professor who knows you rather than the department head who doesn!t. 1ood sources for

letters are your academic advisor, professors of classes you were active in or people you!ve worked for. t!s a good idea to have not only a couple of references from inside of your department, but to demonstrate diversity by having at least one letter written by a faculty member from another department or college. 'chedule a meeting with the professor to talk about the scholarship or fellowship. Use the meeting to e0plain why you think you could be competitive. "hen ask the professor if he or she would have the time to write the letter and if he or she would feel comfortable writing a supportive and positive recommendation letter for you for this particular award. f possible, inform the professor a semester or so ahead of time that you are considering applying for a scholarship or fellowship and would like him or her to write you a recommendation letter. "he professor will pay closer attention to your actions and accomplishments and will perhaps keep a running file on you to use when it comes time to draft the letter. Speak to the professor early enough so that he or she will have about a month to work on the letter. Since each recommendation letter must be tailored to the individual and to the award, your recommender will need plenty of time to complete it. Everyone at CMU has a lot of work to do, and allowing your professor ample time to complete this task is both a courtesy and a necessity. Neatly and thoroughly fill out any portion of the recommender s form that is necessary. !his could be as simple as typing in your name and social security number. "ou want to make the task of recommending you as easy as possible for your recommender. #lthough the decision is up to you, selection committees recommend that you waive your right to see the letter when completed. $aiving your right to see the letter is thought to lend more credibility to the recommender s statements. Make sure that you provide the recommender with a pre%addressed, stamped envelope if necessary or with other directions if the letter is to be returned to you. &ollow up with the professor in a couple of weeks to see if he or she needs any additional information. # call or an e%mail note from you will also serve as a reminder to the professor if he or she has forgotten to write the letter. &inally, thank your recommender for taking the time to write the letter and let him or her know the outcome of the application.

NOTE: Though these tips are especially useful for scholarship and fellowship recommendation letters, many of them are also useful for graduate school and employment recommendation letters.

0#ide$ines for Recommendation Letters


-$ease &rint this &a%e and %i,e it to those from recommendations" hom 'o# are re1#estin%

A Minim#m of Three Recommendations is Re1#ired


)ou should request recommendations from individuals who are familiar with your academic achievement and potential. f you have been out of school for a number of years and are unable to contact former professors, letters from other individuals who can address your achievement and potential will be accepted. %t least two or more of the references should be from people who have seen you do social work or related work. f you have been a paid social worker, at least one of the two references should be completed by your supervisor or director. Recommendations can be word processed on the letterhead stationery of the person sending the recommendation: however, the 1raduate 'chool recommendation form indicating your choice in waiving the right to see the reference should be completed and should accompany the letter. "he form can be downloaded from the 'chool of 'ocial Work web site, or a paper copy can be requested from "he 1raduate 'chool. Com&$eted recommendations sho#$d )e sent to the a&&$icant in a sea$ed en,e$o&e ith the si%nat#re across the sea$" %pplicants should suggest to the persons writing the non-academic references that they use the following guidelines when writing the recommendation letters@

&ow long and in what capacity have you known the applicant? What is your 3udgment of the applicant!s maturity and emotional stability? What is your evaluation of the applicant!s capabilities and suitability for graduate education? What is your evaluation of the applicant!s capabilities and suitability for subsequent practice in the social work profession *i.e., ethical standards, appreciation for a wide range of people, commitment to social and economic equity+? dentify areas such as work performance, workload management abilities, leadership ability, and personal characteristics that you believe might either help or hinder the applicant!s development as an effective social worker. /ther comments.

Some tips from campus colleagues and others who serve on selection boards
.very year, faculty across campus write scores of recommendation letters to get good students into graduate school. $ut some find that writing recommendation letters for very competitive scholarships and fellowships is a different kind of challenge. Writing recommendation letters for such competitive scholarships as the Rhodes, ,arshall and 2ulbright requires e0tra thought and more detail than the typical graduate school recommendation letter. &ere, several -arnegie ,ellon colleagues and others who sit on the selection committees for some of these prestigious awards offer tips on writing recommendation letters.

When a student asks you to write a recommendation letter, make sure that you understand what the student e0pects from you. (o you share the student!s perception of his or her achievements? -ould you wholeheartedly recommend the student for this particular award or program? f not, tell the student you may not be the best person for the task. %sk the student for his or her resume and statement of purpose. )ou may also ask the student for a more detailed list of accomplishments. "hese items will spark your memory if it!s been awhile since you!ve worked with the student. Dnow what the selection committee is looking for. Read over the application materials that the student will provide you. f the committee is looking for scholarship qualities, it is fine to discuss the student!s other qualities, but target your letter and your e0amples on scholarship. "ake some time to really think about the student and what he or she has accomplished. What makes a student!s application packet stand out from the others is not only grades and accomplishments, but the specifics of what the student did and how he or she went about it. "ell a story: compare this student to all the others you!ve had throughout the last five years. $ut, remember, if the student does not stand out significantly from those other students, you may not be the best person to write a recommendation letter for the student. 'election committees normally weed out mediocre application packets before focusing on the e0cellent ones. "his means that a brief letter with phrases like =good student= and =hard worker= that aren!t substantiated with e0amples will get tossed aside in favor of the detailed letter that doesn!t 3ust tell but shows how qualified the student is. ,ost committees look not only for what the student has already done but what he or she has the potential to accomplish. %ddressing potential may take a little more time than discussing past deeds, but it may give the student the edge over other applicants. Unlike recommendation letters written for entrance to graduate school, letters for scholarships and fellowships should not bring up a student!s weakness and then dispel that weakness with a parallel strength. While this technique seems to show ob3ectivity, it is not a technique that works with these very competitive awards. Eudges have many letters to read and are looking for any reason to take a candidate out of the running so that they can concentrate on a smaller core. f a 3udge sees a negative phrase such as =%lthough at first Eane appeared to be a dreamer in class,= he or she may never get to = soon reali6ed that she was actually thinking one step ahead of my lecture.= Write at least a page and don!t be afraid to go into detail in a longer letter. -ommittee members have commented that less than a page shows a lack of enthusiasm. 'ome have commented that over two pages is a bit long, but others have said that a letter filled with e0ample after e0ample of the student!s accomplishments and outstanding capabilities is a 3oy to read. &owever long the letter, be sure to print out each page on one side of the paper only. "he back sides of double-sided letters may get lost if they are photocopied for the committee.

NOTE: Though these tips are especially useful for scholarship and fellowship recommendation letters, many of them are also useful for graduate school and employment recommendation letters

Sam&$e Letter Of Recommendation


#rof. Eohn 'mith ,', #h( (ept. of -omputer 'cience. t gives me immense pleasure in recommending ,r. Eoe (oe for the graduate program in -omputer 'cience at your University. have known him for four years in my capacity as #rofessor, (epartment of -omputer 'cience. have also taught him two theory courses, ! ntroduction to -omputer 'cience! and !'ystem #rogramming! and am teaching him %pplication #rogramming. n this conte0t, wish to place on record the consistently brilliant academic performance of ,r. (oe during his four years of study. %s per his performance records, he can be placed in the top <F8 of a class of AF students in my sub3ect and is placed on the overall in the top 9F8. &e is intelligent, inquisitive and yearns to gain an in-depth knowledge. With his determination and hard work have no doubt that he will succeed in all his endeavors. &is pro3ect titled =%$- (.2 1& ED4= conducted at >>> was ranked among the best pro3ects carried out in the department. &e has shown the motivation, intelligence, preserving nature and analytical aptitude for graduate study and research. &e is e0tremely co-operative and possesses the capacity to contribute positively while working as part of a team. n my view ,r. (oe compares favorably with the best among my students. am sure he will make an outstanding graduate student. recommend him in the strongest terms for admission to the 1raduate #rogram at your University preferably with financial aid. #rof. Eohn 'mith