⭐️Advice for Recommenders

What follows are tips for recommenders.

1. Introduce yourself and explain how you know the applicant.

Let the admissions committee know if you’ve been teaching or working somewhere for a long time, as it adds weight to your assessment of the applicant:

I am the Sterling Professor of English at Yale University. I had the pleasure of teaching Vladimir in my Joyce Seminar, and I got to know him well in my office hours, which he attended frequently. In my eleven years of teaching at Yale, I have rarely encountered such a mature and dedicated student.

I am writing in enthusiastic support of Rachel Nguyen’s application to law school.

I first encountered Rachel in the summer of 2013, when she interned at the Chicago Legal Aid Association (CLAA). The CLAA is a nonprofit law clinic for indigent Chicagoans that is staffed by attorneys who work pro bono as well as Chicago law students. As the director of the program and Rachel’s direct supervisor, I reviewed everything she wrote and guided her research.

2. Focus on her academic chops, not her personality.

The admissions committee wants to know whether an applicant has the intellectual horsepower and the work ethic to succeed in law school. Professors and TAs should emphasize the applicant’s analytical, oral, and written communication skills; thoroughness; and creativity.

Professional recommenders won’t always be able to speak to an applicant’s native intelligence, but can usually talk about her diligence, problem-solving skills, or ability to learn quickly.

3. Use anecdotes.

Don’t just tell the admissions committee how great the applicant is; show them with examples. Talk about specific papers, projects, conversations, or other achievements.

This is what telling looks like: “Jeremy always raised the level of classroom discussion.”

This is what showing looks like:

One day, as we discussed A HOUSE FOR MR. BISWAS, Jeremy came up with a phenomenal idea about the role of newspapers in the text. I remember that conversation not just because Jeremy was two steps ahead of me, but because he was so generous with his insight, making an effort to include all the other students.

4. Compare her to other people.

It’s one thing to say that Noreen is an excellent student. It’s quite another to say that her abilities put her among the top five percent of all the students you’ve taught in the last twenty-one years. (Avoid making such a comparison if you only feel comfortable saying she was in the top 10% or 20%, however).

When you put an applicant in context like this, you should also put your own experience in context by noting how long you have taught or worked in your current position.

5. Write one or two single-spaced pages.

If your letter is less than 500 words, it may look like you are brushing the applicant off or damning her with faint praise. If it’s longer than two pages, you may lose your reader.

6. Send the recommendation on your letterhead.

This lets the admissions committee know that you are writing a recommendation in your official capacity, and not as, say, a friend. You may have to scan your letter and send it as an attachment.

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