What is a Letter of Recommendation and Why it Matters

A letter of recommendation is an important constituent of the college admission process. A letter of recommendation is a one-page letter that talks about accomplishments or capabilities. It is usually written by a mentor or teacher that has worked closely with the student.

The admissions team at the university will use this letter to get a better idea of the student’s character beyond what is available in the black and white statistical reality of transcripts. A letter of recommendation shouldn’t come from mom. It should come from the student’s most revered professional connection or from their biggest professional fans at work or school.



A Letter Of Recommendation Is A Great Opportunity

Most applicants consider their letter of recommendation as a burden with little or no consequence. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a lot to consider when requesting a letter from a mentor. Here’s what you should know. A few of the finer points are detailed below. Make sure you get familiar with the most important elements before getting started.

Write A Brag Sheet

A brag sheet is a detailed list of all your accomplishments. This is a sheet to give to the letter author so they can easily talk about you. Even if they know you well, they may not know about the key accomplishments that make you a good candidate.

A brag sheet should list out your accomplishments in professional, personal, and academic areas of your life. Some professional items to include could be your work experience, promotions, and any accolades you received. Personal items are your extra-curricular activities(martial arts, painting, running a 5k for charity). And academic accomplishments are obvious.

Give The Letter Writer Some Key Ideas

Specific stories and examples in which the author was a witness are great ways to highlight your character. They add credibility to the author’s recommendation because it shows they really know you and have spent time with you.

You might research the school’s mission statement and its values, then share that with your letter writer. If the writer shows your alignment with these principles, you’ll have a better chance of being accepted.

Don’t Over Do It

While the recommendation letter is a chance to have someone brag about you, they shouldn’t gush and go on about your greatness for too long. Just don’t overdo it. Keep it tasteful and it will serve you well.


Balance Your Recommendations Between Fans And Credibility

A letter of recommendation is a chance to brag about yourself like never before. It’s difficult to tell the world of your greatness without coming across as a blow-hard arrogant fool. However, if someone else is doing it for you, you can no longer be blamed for your effortless perfection. For this reason, it’s good to have one of your letters be written by a fan.

In this context, a fan is a teacher or boss that was genuinely impressed by your performance. They don’t need to have the most fantastic title to ever grace the admissions desk. A glowing review of your awesomeness is often better than a cut and dry form letter from a professor emeritus of MIT.

It’s your opportunity to brag. So make sure the letter shines a light on your good side, without lying or exaggerating too much.

For your other letter, it’s probably a good idea to go with the most prestigious professional you can think of. This could be several different kinds of people such as:

  • A tenured professor
  • A CEO or local business owner
  • Your boss
  • A doctor
  • Lawyer

Anyone with significant academic or real-world accomplishments is an appropriate choice to write your letter of recommendation. If they have a license or board-approved certification, they are probably a suitable choice.

If you have any contacts or connections at the university, a letter from those contacts will be more effective.

Don’t Be Surprised If You End Up Just Getting A Signature

It’s common for busy professionals to ask you to write a letter for them to sign. That’s because they are willing to lend you their credibility, but don’t feel comfortable writing it for you.

There are many reasons for this. They might not know what you need from them, they could be too busy, they might not know your accomplishments well enough to do a good job, or they could just be bad writers.

Look at it as an opportunity to say all the good things you’ve ever wanted to say about yourself without looking vain.


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