Letter of recommendations (LOR) used to give me nightmares and for good reason—they are used for many purposes, including deciding whether or not you get a $25,000 scholarship, get into the brand name college, or any industry award.
After reviewing some 150 scholarship applications, and having been on the receiving end of a subpar letter of recommendation in highschool (yes, I still remember), here are the three questions I would ask, every time, to get an outstanding result for everyone involved.
- Can you speak highly enough of that person to write him or her a recommendation letter? Can you write the letter of recommendation in time?
It is okay to say no. I didn’t say it would be easy, but if you can’t speak highly enough of the person and actually see her getting into college because of your letter, do not write one at all. Some acceptable forms of saying no in a constructive manner:
- “Sorry, I have been hit with requests and won’t be able to write you the amazing letter of recommendation I know you deserve.”
- “I am in the middle of a major life change (such as moving to a new state, changing jobs, finding kindergarten programs for a child, preferably yours), and won’t be able to writethe letter of recommendation in the timeframe you need.”
- “I don’t think I’m the best person for the job. Why don’t you ask your [insert another professor’s name here] here instead?”
- “I am absolutely flattered by the fact that youasked me to write you a LOR, but I don’t think I can do that for you because I don’t know you well enough.”
2. Will it be a custom LOR written just for thatperson?
The worst thing you can do is to start out with a form letter. Instead, read some good recommendation letter examples (see here: http://www.spe.org/awards/docs/LOR.pdf) and then start writing!
3. Do you have a good editor to read over the LOR if your writing skills are not at a certain level?
The worst thing you can do you as a recommender is to write a letter with an excellent story, but poor execution, so much that it takes away from the main point. If you know that that you barely passed English 101 in college and haven’t improved your writing skills since then, it may be prudent to have someone else take a look at the letter before sending it in.