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How to Get Awesome Recommendations

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By: Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.

Gen and Kelly Tanabe can answer your question in Expert Advice.




Do the grunt work for your recommenders.

Once you've selected your recommenders, give them everything they need to get the job done. Since they are doing you a favor, make the process as easy as possible for them. This is also where you can most influence what they write and actually direct what accomplishments they highlight. But before we delve into the specifics, here is an overview of what you need to provide each recommender:

  • Cover letter (explained in Step 5)


  • Resume (explained in Step 8)


  • Recommendation form (from the colleges or scholarship program)


  • Pre-addressed, stamped envelopes (if required)

Once you have gathered everything, place it all in a folder or envelope and label it with your recommender's name.




Give your recommenders a script.

Because you know yourself better than anyone else, you would probably receive the best recommendations if you sat down and wrote them yourself. Unfortunately, this practice is frowned upon. Short of writing your own recommendations, you can influence how they turn out by providing your recommenders with detailed descriptions of your accomplishments that can help them decide which aspects to highlight in their letters. This is best done through the cover letter that you send to the prospective recommender.

This letter provides your recommenders with all the information that they need to write your letters, including details about the colleges or scholarships and suggestions for what you'd like the recommendations to address. Since the cover letter also includes other essentials like deadlines, mailing instructions and a thank you, you will not sound as if you are giving orders but rather that you are providing helpful assistance.




Remind the recommenders who are writing college letters of all the wonderful things you've done.

Remember that your teachers and counselors have known many students, which means they probably won't remember what you did last semester let alone two years ago. Remind them in the cover letter! Be as specific as you can about what you would like the evaluation to include, providing examples and accomplishments to which your recommenders may refer. There is nothing wrong with helping your recommenders with their letters. In fact, your recommenders will appreciate your doing so.




Be more selective in what you highlight for recommenders writing scholarship letters.

You may have some recommenders that you are asking to write letters to accompany scholarship applications. Be sure to use the cover letter to show your recommenders which accomplishments to highlight based on the purpose of the award. For example, if you are applying for a scholarship for future teachers, include information about your student teaching experience and the coursework you've taken that is relevant to the field of education. Leave out the fact that you were on the tennis team. Often, whatever you put in the cover letter will be what your recommenders include in their letters.


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