LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
If you are writing the recommendation yourself
Make them sound different
Writing all your recommendations in the same style is just asking for trouble. Remember that these recommendations
will stay on your record for a long time to come. So 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.
Don't use too many superlatives.
None, if possible. And never in pairs. Saying that you're the 'most brilliant' student to have walked
the halls of the college is poor English and likely to result in that recommendation
getting excluded if your transcripts don't back it up.
Make it believable
There's no doubt that you're the brightest student your professor has ever seen (like the dozen others who
have asked him to recommend them). But if your professor puts you
in the top 5% in every category that he's been asked to rank you, and your
transcripts show that you averaged in the bottom 25% of your class, it's
bound to raise some eyebrows. So take it easy on those adjectives and percentages.
Make sure you match up the assessments in the recommendation with the hard
figures that your transcripts reveal.
Try and talk about aspects of your personality that haven't been covered elsewhere
The recommendation really is a magnificent opportunity to do this. So instead of getting your professor
to describe your entire project (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 project. How your already superior fundamentals in the subject
were reinforced by your having developed considerable finesse and accuracy
in the laboratory.
Refer to the essay writing part of this site
Think of it like an essay. In fact, it is an essay. So for god's sake, give it structure and flow; and
work on that content.
Try to get across outstanding achievements
Read your resume and essay again. See if this recommendation provides you with a chance to bolster some of
the claims you've made elsewhere.
Co-ordinate with your goals
Think of what you'd like to be doing in the near future. For example, science and engineering students
generally seek assistantships in research or teaching once they're at their
university. It's quite likely that the person reviewing your application
for an assistantship will look at your application recommendations. If
someone recommending you has said something about your having presented
a seminar on 'Big dams are examples of poor engineering', or having conducted
outstanding research as part of your project, it would substantially add
to your chances of clinching the assistantship.
Use discretion and good judgement
Since you're depending on others for this part of the application, your staying sensible is of utmost importance.
Everything 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. So stick you
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