Would you, please, write a letter of recommendation for me?

Earlier or later this happens to most of us: We are asked to provide a letter of recommendation. Typically this happens when someone wants to apply for some program, some scholarship, some job, some funding, or anything similar.

But who should write this letter? If you are a student, you most likely need to ask a teacher to do this favor for you. But which teacher?

The simple answer is that you go to your favorite teacher and ask her. Of course, the teacher needs to know you; how could she otherwise write about your personality, your abilities, your qualities, your skills, your weaknesses, and all the rest?

If you happen to study at TU Graz, this can be quite tricky. In particular, if you are still in your Bachelor program, you might ask yourself: Which teacher got the chance to get to know me?

Let me describe what happened to me recently: A student asked me to write a letter of recommendation for him. I could not remember to have seen him before. I asked him to help me to remember him. It turned out that we only had the chance to meet once. It was during an exam for Rechnerorganisation. Unfortunately, if I remember correctly, the grade he got was not too exciting, too.

Here comes my advice:

It is never too late to pick at least one favorite teacher. Usually, you meet this teacher in a course you like. You might like the material of the course. Or you might like the way the course topic is presented by this particular teacher. This is also why you invest more time for this course. This is why you also have a lot of questions related to this course. This is why you might engage the teacher in discussions. Through this interaction, the teacher gets to know you. As a result, you usually become one of the better students in this course.

Do you get my point?

As a teacher I usually feel honored when I get asked by one of these students to write a letter of recommendation. Quite often, I ask the student to help me to prepare such a letter. In this case, I usually revise the submitted text, since the students quite often are too modest.

Let me add one important remark here: Please, come early with your request. Don’t force the teacher by stating that the deadline for handing in the letter is just a couple of hours away. Even your most friendly teacher might get unfriendly in this case. As soon as you “smell” that you might need a letter of reference for some application in the relatively near future, you should contact your favorite teacher and ask. As long as there is no time pressure, your favorite teacher will not turn down your request with an excuse sounding like “sorry, not enough time right now”.

Sometimes you need two letters of recommendation. The solution is simple: You need two favorite teachers. Did you just say that there are not that many around at the university? Well, in this case I suggest that you consider changing to some other university.

As a homework for the holiday season I suggest that you write a letter of recommendation for yourself. Inform yourself about what should go into such a letter. Think about yourself. Who are you? What is special about you? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? From this exercise you not only get to know yourself better, but also get a better understanding of the teacher’s task when you ask her for writing about you. Think about your favorite teacher and what this teacher could or should know about you. If you cannot think of a favorite teacher right now, plot a plan to choose one.

I am quite certain that this task will help you to master the hurdle of getting a strong letter of recommendation when you need one.

You might want to start with your holiday task here: http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Letter-of-Recommendation

Or here: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/Verba-recs.html

Or…just google…and roll your own.

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