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How to secure strong recommendation letters
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How to secure strong recommendation letters

Whether applying for grad school admission, an internship or a job, students will need a letter of support from a professor.

February 5, 2020 at 10:00am

By Vanessa Vieites

If you’re gearing up to apply for an internship, a fellowship, grad school admission or a job, chances are you will need a glowing letter of recommendation. You might be wondering: Whom should I ask? When should I ask them? How do I approach them? “The keys to securing a strong letter of recommendation from a professor,” says Associate Professor of Psychology Eliza Nelson, boil down to “time, professionalism, courtesy and organization.” Here are some tips:

1. Choose people who know you well. That ENC 1102 professor you spoke to once or twice is not the ideal person to vouch for you. The best letter writers are those you’ve established a relationship with—in other words, those who can speak highly of your work ethic, skills and strengths.

“If you’re applying to an academic graduate program, you’ll want somebody to speak to your academic ability,” says Ashley Rizzotto, a career counselor at FIU Career and Talent Development. But if the program you are applying for requires research experience, she adds, then you’ll want to ask a professor whose lab you’ve volunteered in.

2.Do not procrastinate. Do not barge into your professor’s office three days before the deadline hoping they’ll agree to write you a glowing letter. This will not go over well.

You want to give letter writers at least a two months’ notice, Rizzotto suggests, adding that “asking early also benefits you because you don’t know how many other letters they’re writing that semester.” If your desired letter writer says they can’t meet the application’s deadline, Rizzotto adds, then at least you’ll have time to ask someone else because you’re asking them months ahead of time.

3. Provide as much information as possible. “After making an informal request in person, follow up with a formal request through email and attach your resume,” Rizzotto advises. 

Don’t assume your professors will have all the relevant information about you to write a strong letter on your behalf. Make time to talk with them about your goals and accomplishments and ask them for professional advice. That way, they can tailor a letter specifically to you and avoid writing the same generic information they would for anyone else.

“Students should ask for a meeting with me to tell me about their career aspirations, their goals, the programs they want to apply to,” says Nelson, who’s written hundreds of letters of recommendation. “I love having those types of conversations with my students; it helps me make a meaningful connection with them.”

4. Tell them your deadlines upfront. Even if you’ve talked to someone in person about writing a letter of recommendation on your behalf, make sure to email them the letter’s due date so they can avoid missing the deadline. When crafting your email, write this key important information in bold letters.

5. Send one reminder. Between one and two weeks before your letter is due, send your letter writer a reminder that the application deadline is approaching. Remember that they are busy and may have other letters of recommendation to write, so one gentle reminder should be enough to ensure that yours is not forgotten.

6. Say thank you. After all your application materials have been submitted, thank your recommendation letter writers for their contributions. This will make them more likely to write another for you in the future.

If you are looking for career counseling services, visit the Career and Talent Development office in room 305 of the Student Academic Success Center (SASC).