Saturday, January 2, 2010

Letters of Recommendation Are Distracting Right Now

I just want to say that letters of recommendation are, as the deadlines grow closer, a terrible distraction.

I have three schools that require three letters and one school that requires four. Two of the schools do everything electronically. Two of the schools are still paper-based systems.

One of my recommenders (is it recommenders or recommendors?) was amazing and got his letters done and in for me at all schools very early on in the process. Two of my recommenders haven't started the letters at all yet, according to one school's electronic system.

Right now I should be 100% focused on my writing, but I am finding my mind repeatedly wondering and worrying about these letters. Will they get in on time? The deadlines are mere days away. I am getting really, really nervous.

Then there is the question of how frequently to pester the recommenders. I've tried to space out my "friendly reminders," to one or more months apart. My last reminder was at least a month and a half ago. I've done a good job at avoiding being an annoyance, but as we get down to the wire here, should I remind them a couple more times? Say, once when I get all my application materials submitted (hopefully several days before the deadline) and once the day before the final deadline? Do I start using the phone now, or stick to email since I am confident they are reading their emails?

I just emailed reminders tonight. Which brought up the usual question of whether just to email the reminders with a personal note, from my own email, or whether to use the reminders of the electronic system. Or both...which is what I have done to date.

What a distraction!

If I ever have the honor of being asked to write a letter of recommendation for a prospective student, I hope I will remember to:

1. Say an enthusiastic yes or say a tactful no based on the strength with which I think I can recommend the prospective student.

2. Once I've agreed to write the letter because I think I can write a strong one, reassure the candidate who is surely nervous and uncertain, that it will be strong.

3. Talk with the candidate a bit. Research the school or program a little and reflect on indicators of the candidate's match with the particular program and school to which s/he is applying. Ask for more information to write the strongest possible letter.

4. Communicate with the candidate when I expect to be able to get the letter done. Let the candidate know if this date changes.

5. Have someone proof the letter for me just to be sure that I don't reflect poorly on the candidate through typos and other unintentional errors. Representing someone else is something of an honor, and should be done well.

6. Follow-up once the letters have been sent so the candidate can breathe a sigh of relief and focus on the aspects of the application s/he can control.

7. Probably share the letter with the candidate. If it wasn't going to be a strong one, I wouldn't have written it will have to be something I am willing to share. Since most candidates will check off that they waive the right at the school level to see the letter, it is a nice gesture for them to get a chance to see it.

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