Swinging back to application-related topics, a prospective student asked me to write about the sort of information that should be provided to a recommender when requesting a letter.  GOOD QUESTION!  Applicants don’t always maximize the value of their recommendations.  For example, the best (i.e. most convincing) person to explain the reasons behind a student’s academic difficulties is a professor, but few applicants ask their professors to provide context on their overall academic record.

This summer, we’ve pulled together some suggestions for recommenders.  Eventually, the list will find a home on the website where recommenders can see it, but today’s post offers a sneak preview of points that could be helpful as you ask professors and supervisors to write for you.

First, though, some suggestions for you, as recommendation requester:

  • Tip #1 is to give the recommender plenty of time/warning to write the recommendation letter.  You can’t expect a high quality letter if you’re making requests two days before the deadline.  (Also be sure to make the deadline clear.)
  • Tip #2 is to share your résumé and your statement of purpose (first application essay) with your recommender.  The statement will tell your recommender what you hope to accomplish at Fletcher, so that the letter can be relevant to your goals.
  • Tip #3 is to provide your recommender with a little information about Fletcher.  Though many letters we receive each year were written by people whose names we see regularly, you shouldn’t assume that someone knows the school.  It’s frustrating for us when we read a letter about an applicant’s potential for law school.

And now, our suggestions for the recommender:

A typical letter of recommendation for a Fletcher application is between one and two pages in length.  A letter that is too short may provide insufficient detail, while a letter that is longer than two pages may be more than needed for the application.  Your letter will be of greatest value if you provide specific and targeted observations, particularly regarding your personal interactions with the applicant.

If you are writing about the applicant’s academic experience:

  • Indication of why a student succeeded (or failed) in a class is helpful. Even if it seems obvious that an “A” grade demonstrates the student’s strength, the context for the grade is useful.  The academic recommendations are among the few qualitative ways we have to understand a student’s academic capacity, and we appreciate understanding how a student excels (not simply that the student did excel).  It can also be useful when recommenders mention what percent of students get an A in the class.
  • Be sure to note it if a student took the time to get to know you outside of class (through research, office hours, etc.).  This is often a helpful indicator of how they will act in graduate school.

If you are writing about the applicant’s professional experience:

  • It is useful to know about the applicant’s progress in and contributions to your organization, rather than simply what position the individual held.
  • If the applicant performed any functions that are relevant to academic work, it is helpful if you bring them to our attention.  Some examples are research, writing, data collection or analysis, or work within a team.
  • An assessment of the applicant’s professional potential also contributes to our evaluation of the application.  As a professional school, we want to know that students will be able to achieve their career goals.
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