Letters of Reference – Some Advice

So, you want a letter of recommendation?  Before you ask any of your teachers for one, here are a few things you need to consider:

How well does the teacher know you?

If the answer is that he or she has only known you a month or so, think about seeking out a teacher from the previous two years.

What has your performance and attitude been like for the instructor you wish to write a letter?

Teachers, by nature, like students and want to help you succeed.  However, when it comes to writing a letter of recommendation, if you have not performed well in a class, the fact that we like you cannot make up for your performance.  If you have made a habit of coming late to class, of not turning in work, or of exhibiting a consistently “underwhelming” attitude, be prepared for the instructor to suggest you seek another reference or for the instructor to mention your shortcomings in his or her letter.

What information have you provided?

You need to make sure that you give every teacher you ask to write a letter a copy of your resume, a description of your involvement and progress (academic and extra-curricular) at school, and specific information about the scholarship for or school to which you are applying.  Remember that the more information you provide, the easier it will be for instructors to write fabulous things about you.

How much time have you given the teacher to write the letter?

Letters take time to write, and teachers are busy people.  Please give at least two weeks notice when requesting a letter of reference.

Do you actually intend to use this letter, or are you merely “shopping” for the best letters?

Do not ask an instructor to write a letter unless you actually intend to use it.  Again, letters take time, and it is bad form to ask a teacher to write one just to see what he or she says.

Did you thank the teacher?

Remember that what you asking the teacher to do is not part of the official job description.  In other words, it is a favour.  Make sure that you take the time to write a thank-you note after the letter has been written.  Chocolate works well, too!

(adapted from L. Balla)

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