Tips for Getting a Great Letter of Recommendation
First-Year Experience developed the following resource to assist peer leader applicants in asking faculty or staff for a recommendation. The basic principles, however, apply to a wide range of situations. Practice them, and you’ll find that you maximize your chances to get a great letter of recommendation!
1. Develop relationships.
Getting a great letter of recommendation begins with developing strong relationships. This is by far the most important factor in securing a strong letter or evaluation. People writing a recommendation for you need something to say, and they can write more convincingly if they really know you. If you haven’t begun to develop relationships with faculty and staff at Georgia Southern, make an effort to start now. Visit faculty members’ office hours, meet the advisor for a student organization you’re interested in, or volunteer to assist a professor with his or her research. Serving as a peer leader is a wonderful way to develop these relationships!
2. Choose whom to ask wisely.
- Follow directions. If the form asks for a faculty member, ask a faculty member (the peer leader process calls for a faculty or staff member; a letter from a high school teacher won’t be acceptable). You should generally avoid personal references (family friends, etc.) unless the application specifically indicates that this is OK.
- The position or rank of the person writing can make a difference in some cases, but you should select someone who knows you well and can write a strong letter over someone who is in a more senior position but doesn’t know you very well.
3. Waive your right to see the recommendation.
This isn’t required, but it generally demonstrates that you have confidence in yourself. This gets back to the issue of knowing your recommender– why would you ask someone to write whom you didn’t have confidence would speak well of you? Some recommenders choose not to complete a form if you don’t waive the right to see it, although some of the same recommenders will end up providing you a copy of what they write voluntarily if you *do* waive your right to see it.
4. Ask politely, preferably in person.
It is not a recommender’s obligation to write on your behalf. His or her doing so is a favor to you, and you should let your recommender know that you appreciate it, whether you do so face-to-face or in an email.
5. Provide as much time as possible for your recommender to write.
A minimum of two weeks is optimal, especially if a formal letter is required (one isn’t for the peer leader position). If you must ask on a short timeline, then apologize for doing so. Asking on short notice is easier to get away with if you’ve developed a strong relationship with the person you’re asking (sound familiar?). It’s also often OK to ask with a shorter timeline if you know the person has already written a letter for you that he or she can modify.
6. Provide a description of the position or scholarship for which you are applying and explain why you are interested in it.
A recommender can write a stronger letter if he or she can speak specifically to the relationship between your skills and experiences and the position. Being able to speak to your motivation also allows your recommender to write a more compelling letter.
7. Provide your recommender with a resume, and if appropriate, a copy of your application.
Your recommender may not need it and may not consult it at all, but it can’t hurt. These materials can allow your recommender to see other aspects of your college career and personal interests that might make the letter he or she writes that much stronger. You also demonstrate a level of professionalism that many recommenders will appreciate.
8. Follow up an in-person request with an email to your recommender thanking him or her and confirming details.
This is professional and good manners. But it also serves to confirm things for busy people. Recommenders are much less likely to forget when you’ve done this.
Below is an example of an email request for a Peer Leader recommendation, you may modify this example to fit the position you are applying for and to fit your needs. As mentioned in #4 above, an in-person request is usually better, but you shouldn’t wait too long to schedule one, especially if time is already tight.
Dear Dr. Eagle,
I was in your FYE 1220 class last year and enjoyed it a lot. My Eagle ID is 900-XX-XXXX. You may remember that you helped me on my presentation on _______. I know that all of us learned a lot from _____ [the peer leader in your class]. I’ve decided to apply to be a peer leader myself because I’d like to be able to help new students adjust to college as she did for us.*
Would you be willing to fill out an online recommendation on my behalf? If so, please visit the following link: http://academics.georgiasouthern.edu/fye/peer-leader-rec/ sometime when you’re logged into your email. Please note that I have waived my right to view your comments in the recommendation form. It is due on Friday, January 30.
I’ve attached my resume and the answers I provided on my application in case that’s helpful to you. Thank you for considering this, and of course, I’ll understand if you need to say no.
Your full name
* If this specific example of a presentation and liking the PL in your class doesn’t apply to you, provide some other relevant thing that you found particularly positive about your interaction with him or her. But be sure to be genuine! Most faculty can smell it when you’re blowing smoke.
Last updated: 11/12/2015