The Letters of Rec Too?!?!?!?

OK. You've written dynamite essays and filled out the applications. All of a sudden you get an unexpected curve ball. One of your recommenders says "I really want to help you get into grad school. Why don't you write the letter of rec, and I'll sign it. That way it will emphasize exactly what you think is most important."

You of course graciously acknowledge the recommender's good intentions and thank him or her for the outstanding idea. Inwardly you are less than thrilled with the idea of writing one more word about yourself.

Relax. We'll tell you what a recommender should say. In fact, you can pass these tips on to your recommenders, in case they don't know what to say and don't ask you to say it.

10 Tips for Recommenders

  1. Review a copy of the applicant's personal statement or application essays so that your letter of recommendation can dovetail with--not conflict with or duplicate--the rest of the application.
  2. Ask the applicant to supply you with additional information like a resume.
  3. Describe your qualifications for comparing the applicant to other applicants.
    • I have been teaching for twenty years and have advised approximately 450 students on independent research projects over the last five years.
    • I have personally supervised ten interns every summer for the last five years plus worked with over two hundred college graduates in my capacity as trainer for Big Bank Corp.
  4. Discuss how well you know the applicant.
    • I was able to get to know Mr. Doe because he made it a point to attend two of my sections every week when only one was required.
    • Ms. Smith reported directly to me for two years prior to her well-deserved promotion to the position of Senior in our Big Six Accounting Firm.
  5. Choose two to three qualities that you observed in the applicant.
    • Jane has a rare blend of top writing and interpersonal skills.
    • The combination of tenacity, analytical abilities, and good communications skills found in Mr. Doe is truly unique.
  6. In discussing those qualities, support your statements with specific instances in which he or she demonstrated those attributes. Be as concrete and detailed as possible.
    • He is the only student I ever had who came to all my office hours as part of a relentless, and ultimately successful, drive to master financial theory. He was one of just ten percent in the class to receive an A.
    • Because of Jane's writing skills, I didn't hesitate to ask her to write a report which was used by our PAC as the basis for a major policy statement. Congressman X eventually used the statement, based on Jane's sophisticated 20-page analysis of Middle East politics, in lobbying for increased funding.
  7. Try to quantify the student's strengths or rank him or her vis a vis other applicants that you have observed.
    • He was in the top 10% of his class.
    • She has the best analytical skills of any person her age that I have ever supervised.
  8. Avoid generalities and platitudes. 
  9. Include some mild criticism, typically the flip-side of a strength.
    • The only fault I have encountered in him is his retiring nature. His modesty sometimes hides a young man of remarkable strength and broad interests.
    • Occasionally, her fortitude and persistence can turn into stubbornness, but usually her good nature and level-headedness prevail.
  10. Discuss the applicant's potential in his or her chosen field.
    • I enthusiastically recommend Mr. Doe to your business school. This well-rounded student will be a fine businessperson.
    • With her exceptional leadership, writing, and quantitative skills, Ms. Smith will be an outstanding strategic consultant and a credit to the business school she attends.

By Linda Abraham, Founder and President of Accepted

For information on how Accepted can help you, please see our grad school admissions consulting and application services.

Client Feedback

The verdict is in: I'm in! I was truly blessed to have you as an essay coach. Actually, you were more than an essay coach; you were a confidence builder. You helped me craft a very consistent theme for my application and build an irrefutable case for admission. For this, I will be forever grateful. 

-- Accepted to U Penn MS program.


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