Almost all of the recommendations that schools receive are “good”. Probably the vast, vast majority are nice letters with flowing adjectives and general support that would make the average candidate think they’ve got their golden ticket into the program. The fact of the matter is, however, that a “good” recommendation falls flat. It falls short. It doesn’t add anything to your application. It’s negated. It’s as if it didn’t even happen.
A “great” recommendation, however, ah, well that’s a different story! A “great” recommendation complements your application. It paints you in a real, albeit net positive, light. It’s specific but aligned. It’s positive yet balanced. Think of it this way: this is a requirement for all applicants. How are you going to differentiate this specific component of your application? Well, for one, to get to a “great” recommendation you need great recommenders.
You’ve worked with so many great people over the course of your career from your undergraduate studies to professional experiences and extracurricular activities. Now, it’s time to showcase their support for you but this letter has to go beyond simple flattery. Many people think that position rank or title is the most important aspect of a recommendation. While alumni status and experience of the recommender do play a role in the admission committee’s assessment, what your recommender says about you and how they say it are the most important aspects of these letters.
There are four things to keep in mind:
First, make sure you truly know this person and that they, in turn, really know you. The recommendation is a very personal component of the application and the better they know you, the better they will be able to provide the support an admissions committee would want to read. For example, if you recently switched roles at your organization and you have been aligned to a new manager or director, it’s probably best that you ask your former manager for this recommendation. He or she will be able to draw from recent examples of your performance and the more specific the letter can be the better (you can always explain why you didn’t choose your current manager in the optional essay).
Second, make sure the person that you request a recommendation from has the bandwidth to do the letter(s) justice. If you are skeptical that they may not be able to carve out the time in their hectic schedule to make this letter a priority, you might want to consider somebody else. Also, keep in mind the load you look to place on them. If you’re applying to six schools and are using two recommenders – well, that’s going to be a little rough on anyone!
Third, make sure you properly prepare your recommender. Your recommender should have ready access to your school strategies, experiences, performance evaluations, etc. They should know what unique aspects of your application they are responsible for showcasing and what parts they need to reinforce. And they should know this at a school level – a recommender should be able to tailor each recommendation for each school!
Finally, spend time with your recommender so that they truly understand how much this means to you. Adding that emotional connection is another way to have your recommender add that extra something that differentiates you from the rest of the applicant pool. These individuals are already your table pounders so take the time to develop these relationships!
We know this isn’t an easy task, which is why it is important to plan ahead and start engaging your recommenders early on in the process. Dedicating the necessary time to work with and prepare your recommenders will put you in a position to rock this aspect of your application!
Good luck to everyone applying and if you want to chat about the path ahead, don't hesitate to [sign up for a free consultation] with us! It's free, awesome, and super useful!