Letters of Recommendation
Q: I need letters of recommendation to send to my prospective colleges. What should I keep in mind as I choose my letter writers?
A. Recommendation letters are an important part of the application process. And it does matter who writes them, so choose carefully. Many colleges have specific requirements such as a guidance counselor, a pastor, etc., so make sure you abide by each school's instructions. Here are a few other suggestions that will help you pick the right people.
First, choose people who know you well instead of somebody you think will impress the admissions staff. For example, choose a youth leader who's been around you three or four years rather than your senior pastor if he barely knows you.
Second, choose a variety of people who will provide a well-rounded perspective of who you are. You need someone who understands your commitment to Christ and church-related activities. You also need someone, like a teacher, who understands your academic abilities and extracurricular involvements.
Finally, you need someone, like a close family friend or boss, who understands your emotional maturity and work ethic.
Next, encourage your letter writers to be specific. I'm surprised by the number of reference letters I receive that are way too general. They aren't helpful because they don't provide enough specific information about a candidate. On the other hand, letters that give specific details about how the writer has interacted with the candidate are very valuable in helping me develop my perceptions.
Finally, pick people who like you. I know it sounds obvious, but don't ever pick a reference who's fired you from a job or somebody you always seem to rub the wrong way. This doesn't mean you should pick a reference who doesn't know your weaknesses or challenges. Honesty from your references is extremely important. You don't want to come across as "too good to be true"; if you do, you probably are! But you do want references who know you well and who will help you put your best foot forward.
Written by Skip Trudeau