Letters of Recommendation (LORs)

Letters of recommendation can be the decisive factor in a committee’s decision. The letters, therefore, are critical to the candidate’s chances for success in the competition.

The selection committees want to see what others have to say about you as a scholar and a person. As such, your LORs need to be strong endorsements to help ensure that your application is competitive.

Asking for letters of recommendation can be intimidating, but if you go into it with the right attitude and having prepared thoroughly, you should find that it is not so difficult after all. Here are some helpful hints for approaching people about writing your letters.

  • Seek out the people who really know you well. The letter writer’s depth of knowledge about you is more important than their title.
  • Ask early! The earlier you approach someone to write for you, the easier it will be for them to plan their time. In general, asking for a letter in less than three weeks is considered inconsiderate.
  • Do not assume that the person you will ask to write on your behalf will write you a strong letter. You have to ask! Ask them directly: “Will you be able to write me a strong letter of recommendation?” Or ask indirectly: “Do you have time to write a strong letter for me?” Most of your identified recommenders will say “yes” enthusiastically, but framing the request this way gives potential referees the opportunity to decline gracefully. A reluctant referee will generally write a lukewarm letter which is a waste of their time, and a potential death knell to your application!
  • Prepare a packet of relevant information. The more information you provide, the better. Try putting together a packet with the following:
    • a brief description of the fellowship(s) you are applying for, including criteria for selection;
    • a current résumé;
    • a list of personal data (extra-curricular activities, or organizations) which may not appear on your résumé;
    • a rough draft of your application or project proposal;
    • helpful reminders of great things you did in their class/organization/internship.
  • About a week or two before the recommendation is due, contact them again to find out if they need any more information or update them on any changes you may have made to your proposal. (This also works as a friendly reminder that the deadline is approaching.)
  • Schedule an appointment with your recommender(s) to discuss the scholarship in general, the scholarship selection criteria in particular, and your reasons for applying. If you cannot meet in person because one of you is off-campus, be prepared to provide this information via email.
  • Finally, be sure to write your references a note of thanks, and let them know what happens!

“References Available Upon Request” by Joe Schall, discusses selecting and approaching potential recommendation writers. The article is available on the Web from the 2008 Graduating Engineer + Computer Careers.

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