With just over two weeks until the November 15 Early Notification deadline, this post is best timed for applicants aiming for a January 10 application, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some EN folks are still engaged in a back and forth with their recommenders, so…
If you’ve maintained your relationships with past professors and supervisors, lining up a recommendation shouldn’t be too difficult. But making the recommendation work well for you is a larger task. Step one, naturally, is the request. If you can speak directly to your recommender, that’s great! If you’re relying on email, do your recommender (and, by extension, yourself) a favor: include information in your request that will help the professor or supervisor write the letter. For your academic recommendation, you might attach a piece of writing you did for that professor. Your transcript will give the professor a sense of your complete academic record. If your #1 essay (the one that’s a statement of purpose) is ready to share, you could attach that. Definitely include your résumé. All of these will help get the letter writing started. For a professional recommendation, obviously the writing and transcript aren’t as helpful, but the other items would be.
Because you want every element of the application to support your candidacy, once a recommender has agreed to write a letter for you, tell the writer about your objectives and how the recommendation can support your application. Important (if obvious) note: That’s not the same as writing it yourself! But I find that a lot of applicants throw away too much of the recommendation’s value by not offering guidance to the writer.
You’ll want to give your letter writers some time to write the letter, and you may need to follow-up to be sure the letter is submitted before the deadline. We won’t penalize you if your letter writer is late by a few days. But if your letter writer delays too much, your application will languish in a virtual box, regardless of when you’ve submitted your materials. Stay on top of this, and if your writer seems unable to find the time, get in touch with us — we’ll tell you how to swap one recommender for another.
And now, two additional resources. First, you can check out what we’ve written about recommendations in the past. Second, you can refer your letter writers to a page on our website that gives them further information on how to write a helpful letter. Keep in mind that, while many professors churn out dozens of letters each year, your workplace supervisor may never have written one before.
And while I’m thinking of it, I’ll highlight one particular point from that information page. “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.” This is especially valuable guidance for those who haven’t written letters before, or those from other cultures where a shorter or longer recommendation may be the norm. Help your recommender understand that the letter is for a U.S. graduate school, and a single paragraph won’t support your candidacy as well as a more detailed letter would.
Last, but definitely not least important: Keep your recommenders posted on the process! Thank them for writing when the letter first goes in, when you’ve submitted all your applications, and when you hear back from your graduate schools. Writing a good letter takes time; updates and thanks are the least you can do to “repay” the writers.