Letters of recommendation are easy right? You find the biggest name you can find and you ask them to write about you. Not so fast. This approach should actually be thought out some more. First of all, make sure that the authors of your letters know you and more importantly feel like they can write about you. Contact them, ask them if they are open to writing letters on your behalf. Don’t stop there, take them out for coffee, tell them why you want to go to graduate school, what you want to do with your career and why you’re applying to the specific graduate school for which they are writing the letter. Make sure you give them all the information they need to write a letter for you.
Each year we get letters that read like this:
“Jane Doe is a great student. I have taught courses at (insert any university name here) for the past (insert impressive time frame here), I take my courses and grading very seriously and look critically at each student. She was in my (insert difficult sounding course here) and earned (insert letter grade here that tells application reviewer nothing). She was nice, smart and seems capable of being successful in your program. If you have any questions about her application, please contact me.”
Big name university
What does this letter say to me as a reviewer? The author of this letter does not really know the student other than looking in his/her class roster and looking up their grade along with some blah-blah-blah rah-rah-rah superlatives. Other than the grade, nothing in the letter is unique to the student. What about the “nice smart and capable” comment? This essentially tells me the author does not know the candidate but tried to insert something into the letter to suggest otherwise.
If you can sit down with your authors (or at least email them) and clearly lay out what you want them to mention in the letter, your application will be more complete since your letters will match your personal statement. Make sure they have an outline of what you want them to address and your application should be stronger.
Director of Admissions