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5 Tips for a Stellar Letter of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are absolutely critical to acceptance to your dream university. Your grades, test scores, essays, and extracurriculars certainly tell the admissions committee a lot about you -- but good letters of recommendation help complete the picture. Here are five tips for getting some great ones:

Ask someone who knows you well to write it for you. Students are sometimes tempted to ask famous people or people of high stature to write letters on their behalf -- even if they have never met the student or don’t know them well. They can’t write a good letter of recommendation for you: they aren’t familiar with your character, personality, work ethic, etc. -- all things which the letter should be about!

Give the person who’s writing it a list of the places you are apply to, a list of things you are involved in, and some qualities you would like them to emphasize. Your recommenders probably know you well, but help them do a good job: tell them what you want the admissions committee to see in you!

Give your recommender plenty of time. Don’t expect a good letter of recommendation if you give your writer a week to write it. The more time, the better -- and the better the letter will be! (Ooooh, that rhymes.) When I was applying for college many eons ago, I asked my recommenders when school ended in June if they would be willing to write my letters for me. (College applications were due in December.) You may not always have that much time, but be sure to tell them ASAP. (When recently applying for a summer program, I asked my recommender the day I decided to apply, giving her about a month and a half.)

Be sure to follow up. When submission day gets close, be sure to follow up -- ask your recommenders if they need anything from you. It is YOUR responsibility to make sure it gets submitted on time!

Write a thank-you note. Be polite and appreciate the time and effort your recommenders put into writing an exceptional letter for you. This helps a lot, especially if you want to ask for another letter of rec in the future!

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