Tips for Recommenders

  1. Review a copy of the applicant’s personal statement so that your letter of recommendation can dovetail with—not conflict with or duplicate—the rest of the application.
  2. Ask the applicant to supply you with additional information like a resume.
  3. Describe your qualifications for comparing the applicant to other applicants.
    • “I have been teaching for twenty years and have advised approximately 450 students on independent research projects over the last five years.”
    • “I have personally supervised ten interns every summer for the last five years plus worked with over two hundred college students in the Big Medical Center ER.”
  4. Discuss how well you know the applicant.
    • “I was able to get to know Mr. Doe because he made it a point to attend two of my sections every week when only one was required.”
    • “They did research in my laboratory for two years and I worked very closely with them.”
  5. Choose two to three qualities that you observed in the applicant.
    • “Jane has a rare blend of top research, analytical, and interpersonal skills.”
    • “The combination of tenacity, willingness to help, and good communications skills found in Mr. Doe is truly unique.”
  6. In discussing those qualities, support your statements with specific instances in which they demonstrated those attributes. Be as concrete and detailed as possible
    • “He is the only student I ever had who came to all my office hours as part of a relentless—and successful—drive to master biochemistry. He was one of just ten percent in the class to receive an A.”
    • “Because of Mick’s research and communications skills, I didn’t hesitate to ask them to monitor epileptic patients and prepare electrodes to be implanted in their bilateral temporal lobes. Their quality work contributed significantly to a paper we co-authored and presented to the Society for Neuroscience.”
  7. Try to quantify the student’s strengths or rank them vis a vis other applicants that you have observed.
    • “He was in the top 10% of his class.”
    • “She has the best research skills of any person her age that I have ever supervised.”
  8. Avoid generalities and platitudes.
  9. Include some mild criticism, typically the flip-side of a strength.
    • “The only fault I have encountered in him is his retiring nature. His modesty sometimes hides a young man of remarkable sensitivity and broad interests.”
    • “Occasionally, her fortitude and persistence can turn into stubbornness, but usually her good nature and level-headedness prevail.”
  10. Discuss the applicant’s potential in their chosen field.
    • “I enthusiastically recommend Mr. Doe to your medical program. This well-rounded student will be a fine, compassionate doctor.”
    • “With her exceptional interpersonal and research skills, Ms. Smith will be an outstanding doctor and a credit your program.”