It is that time of year again. The weather is getting cold, stores are overwhelming us with holiday items, and students are applying to graduate schools and internships. It is recommendation letter season. I was recently asked to serve as a recommender for two students. One is apply to graduate school while the other is applying for Teach for America. Of course, my goal is to help these students land the positions they want, but I cannot help my anxiety of wanting to write the best letter I can. I began searching with my trusted friend, Google, to see if I could improve my letters for the benefit of my students.
Here are two great resources I found to write better letters:
Some themes that I always adhere to when writing recommendation letters were echoed in the abovementioned links. My letters are structured so that it is clear how well I know the student, what their strengths are, and why I think this program or job is where they belong. Reading these ideas on these websites calmed my fears. My letters would not be the reason why these students were removed from the “yes” pile and moved to the trash can.
My final thoughts on writing recommendation letters relates to how I communicate with my students. I always ask for a detailed description of the job, school, program he or she is applying to. I ask for a resume, personal statement, or other accompanying documents she or he is submitting so that I may discuss this student in the light that they are portraying themselves. Finally, I ask for ample time to craft these letters with all of the materials necessary. If letters need to be mailed, I ask for addressed envelopes with stamps attached. I also ensure that I build writing, proofreading, and editing into my calendar so that the deadline is met with a high quality recommendation. I hope this helps during the greatest season of the year, recommendation season!
-Michael J. Miragliotta