Asking for a Letter of Recommendation - Continued

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Most applications include specific forms for letter of recommendation writers. They often ask for both a written-out statement and a series of ranking or short questions. If you are asking your instructor for several versions of the letter -- for instance, if you are applying to a number of schools -- you might remind him/her that the statement need not be written directly on the sheet itself; it can simply be stapled to the form. 

Always provide your letter of recommendation writer with stamped envelopes. If you are asking for multiple letters, it's a good idea to organize all the forms in one folder and include a cover sheet with a list of the schools for which you are requesting letters. Remember to include envelopes of the appropriate size, and overestimate the value of stamps (remember that the instructor might attach extra pages to the form).

Some applications require the instructor to return the letter to you in a sealed envelope. Don't forget to ask the writer to sign across the flap of the envelope. 

Finally, you might consider providing the letter writer with a diskette for saving a copy of the letter. Chances are the letter writer saves these letters on his hard-drive anyway, but a new diskette might serve as a reminder of the importance of keeping a backfile. Letters, after all, have been lost in the mail before -- not to mention in admissions offices, which are flooded with mail around each application deadline -- and there's always a chance you might have to ask for a second copy to be sent out.


Federal Law grants you access to your letters of recommendation, but many applications include a form where you can waive your rights to read the letter. We highly recommend that you waive your right to read the letter when given the option to do so. Waiving your right reassures the admissions readers that the instructor has written a candid letter -- that is, without the bothersome pressure of knowing that you might read it one day. Studies have shown that confidential letters carry far more weight with admissions readers. 

In addition, letter of recommendation writers are far more comfortable writing a complete, candid letter when they know the applicant will not have access to the text. If you fear that the letter writer might not do justice to your achievements or might include negative information -- well, that's a good sign you should not be asking that person for a letter of recommendation. 


Always send your letter of recommendation writer a thank-you note after you know the letter has been sent out -- whether or not you have heard from the school. Don't wait to long to do this: a week or two is a good timeline. Of course, if you are eventually admitted to that coveted program or land that sought-after job, you might want to call up your letter writer to share your good news and thank him/her once again. Never hurts to quietly share your success, especially with those who helped you to achieve it. 

Note for Business and Law School Applicants

The same rules above apply for business and law school applications, but these are often a bit morute aborate than regular college or graduate degree applications. Many business and law school applications spell out exactly what information they will be looking for in the letter of recommendation forms. The instructions will often include specific sub-questions such as:

Please provide us with a concrete instance in which the applicant demonstrated his or her leadership skills.

What are the applicant's main strengths?
What are the applicant's main weaknesses?
What will this applicant contribute to our program?

Letters that contain concrete, vivid anecdotes supporting their claims are stronger than ones that fail to go beyond abstract generalizations. Likewise -- and this is particularly true of that pesky question about your weaknesses -- letters that balance achievement with a candid assessment of perceived weaknesses are far more convincing than letters that contain only superlative comments. Admissions readers, even those at the top schools, are not interested in flawless candidates: because flawless candidates don't exist. They are interested in people who are willing to tackle challenges and learn from their mistakes; thus, the best b-school letters of recommendation balance praise, candidness, concrete evidence, and convey both focus, breadth, enthusiasm, and resilience.

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