Thank your letter writers!

Don’t forget to thank the people that wrote your letters of recommendation. These faculty members took time out of their very busy lives to write letters for you, and they deserve at least a thank you in return. Send them a thank you note, or stop by their office to say thank you in person. This not only shows that you are truly grateful for their effort, but it gives off a very good impression.

Also, stay in touch with these individuals. In the spring, let them know which schools you got in; when you go off to grad school, drop them a line every once in a while to let them know how you are doing. You might need to request their help again at some point in the future, and they are more likely to help if you have kept in touch with them.

Recommendation letters – Even MORE Advice

There’s a lot of good advice around here – not to toot our own horns, it’s the truth! Here’s my own two cents on recommendation letters. Sometimes it’s really difficult to know who to ask, and how. If you’ve done a special research project with a faculty member, that’s a great place to start. If you haven’t, it’s not too late! Have you written a paper you are especially proud of? Use that as an “in” to get to know a professor. It can be tough approaching professors for favors like these, and that’s why it’s important to develop a good rapport with your letter writers beforehand. And above all, put yourself in their shoes. Does the person know enough about you to write a good letter? If you have doubts, it’s time to put some face time in.

I had some trouble thinking of who to ask for letters when I applied to graduate school. One reason for this is that I took two years off between undergrad and grad school. If you are thinking about taking time off, try to find ways to maintain contact with those undergrad professors who will be writing your letters in the future. Even one or two emails – maybe seeking advice on your grad school search – are a better prelude than emailing someone out of the blue and requesting a letter. Another tip for those taking time off: use your time wisely. Grad schools want to see that you are making progress, even outside of school, and contacts made in the interim can also write those letters for you. I chose to volunteer for an anti-looting organization during my time off. This gave me valuable experience and an additional letter of recommendation. Even a little volunteering over a summer or winter break can broaden your horizons (please excuse the cliche) and produce a great letter from a new perspective.

Serious business – your letter of recommendation

(Honestly, this is time consuming).

I was talking to Claire the other day in Soma, and realized that my past few posts may have come across like not-so-fun lectures to recalcitrant prospective students.  I don’t think this one will be any different, but I don’t mean to sound stern, it’s just that topics like, say, securing letters of recommendation (for example) are serious business!  So, continuing on in my Eeyore-like blogging style, here are some things NOT to do when asking for a letter of recommendation:

1. Don’t assume that your letter is the number one priority for the faculty member.  This one is common sense–be sensitive to the fact that faculty are really busy people who have a lot of other things to do.  This means don’t pressure them once you’ve asked, and definitely don’t nag.  Remember, they are doing you a favor by writing for you.

2. Ask well in advance of your deadline.  Related to #1, make sure to be considerate of the faculty member’s time.  Don’t expect a “yes” (or at least, not an enthusiastic one) if you ask for a letter just a week or so before the deadline.  At least a month’s notice makes sense.

3. Provide relevant information about yourself, your program, whatever you are applying for.  Don’t make the faculty member mind-read.  Provide a copy of your CV, a writing sample, a description of whatever you are applying for, and/or any other materials that will help the faculty member to write the best letter he or she can.

4. Most importantly–always say “thank you” and mean it.  Writing a thoughtful letter of recommendation takes a significant amount of time and energy.  Always remember to acknowledge the help you’ve been given in a polite and meaningful way.  Don’t assume that the faculty member knows you are grateful–say it!  Write a card.  Stop by and say “thank you” personally.