By Jessica Lyons
1. Choose your recommenders wisely.
When it comes time to solicit recommendations from professors, advisors or counselors, don't just ask the first three people who come to mind. Think about the people who know you best and have the most insight into who you are as a student and as a person. A professor you had for a single class probably wouldn't be as good a choice as one you had for several, or even as good as an academic advisor who has gotten to know you pretty well over the years.
2. Give plenty of time to write the letters.
If you wait until two days before your letters of recommendation are due to ask for them, the letters you receive will probably be pretty rushed; they likely won't be as detailed and as impressive as a letter that your recommenders had a couple weeks to work on. The more time you give your letter-writers, the more time they'll have to really think about the positive things they have to say about you.
3. Provide your recommenders with information about you.
Even if a professor writing you a recommendation knows you relatively well, he or she might still not realize everything you've done. So, before the writing process gets underway, hand over any information that could be helpful to your writers. That could include sharing a list of all your courses or highlighting campus and community involvement; you could also spotlight any awards you've received or other significant accomplishments.
4. Explain to your recommenders what the letters are for.
Don't just tell the people giving you letters that you need a recommendation from them. That can be pretty vague and could result in a generic letter. Instead, give them specifics about what you're applying for and what sort of information the decision-makers are looking to find out. For instance, if you're applying to a graduate school program that emphasizes leadership abilities, make sure your recommender knows it so they can write about class projects or discussions you led.
5. Show your appreciation.
A little appreciation can go a long way. Don't take your letters and walk away. Even a small gesture like a thank you card, box of candy or gift card to a local coffee shop can show your recommenders that you're genuinely grateful for their time and efforts. Extending your thanks could also mean that the person will be more likely to write you another recommendation in the future should you need it.
While saying thank you to a recommender is a good idea, it's sometimes a requirement for scholarship recipients.