Letters of Recommendation: Don’t Ask Your Dog!

An important part of any college scholarship application is your letters of recommendation, and it’s never too early to start thinking about who you are going to conscript to give the committee the lowdown on everything you didn’t tell them in your application essay.

Sounds stressful? Don’t sweat it!

While it’s true that someone else is going to chime in and tell their own little secrets about you, you aren’t relinquishing all control of the situation. First thing to remember is that letters of recommendation are a GOOD thing, because you get to pick who will represent you before the scholarship committee. I’m sure that you’re a fabulous person, and everybody you’ve met just adores the heck out of you, but there’s always somebody who has an ever-so-slightly negative opinion about the validity of your charms. (Right, these people are totally just jealous!) The good news is that the judges will never talk to your enemies! This is a scholarship decision, not a parole hearing, so those few people who don’t believe in you simply aren’t invited to speak. Furthermore, the judges don’t have the time or inclination to hunt down any people who don’t like you. You don’t need to worry that someone on the committee will find out how you ambushed your mailman with a paint bomb when you were twelve, because nobody will sit outside your house waiting to interrogate him behind your back. As long as the juvenile court record is sealed, the secrets of your past are safe.

Throughout your life, there are many people who have helped you to get where you are today. You’ve beat the odds already by deciding that college is important to you even if your grades are less than amazing, and the adults surrounding you know this! When it comes time to choose which mentors and role models you want representing you, do it C-student style, and be creative… but not too creative. The scholarship committee will probably not appreciate a letter of recommendation that you claim was written by your dog, even if Patches obviously adores you more than any other creature on the planet. I know that paw print signature at the bottom of the letter is super-cute, but rip it up, anyway, and save such ingenuity for your scholarship essay. Recommendation letters are serious!

So who should you ask? The first step is to look around your community and make a list of those adults that have spent the most time with you during the past few years. These people are very likely teachers, employers, activity coaches, volunteer coordinators, and the humorless woman who oversees the detention program at your school (hmm…you might want to leave her OFF the list. Just a suggestion.)

Check back soon for more tips on choosing the best recommenders for each application you submit. But for now the important thing to remember is: START EARLY! The best way to end up with a sloppy, poorly conceived letter is to say to a recommender, “I need this finished by tomorrow night, okay?” In such a situation, you’ll be lucky to get even a sloppy letter, instead of a flat-out refusal! Thanks to modern technology, today’s adults check their e-mail, update their Facebook pages, while still finding the time to do laundry and dishes. They are busy, busy people, so make sure you give them enough time to think of all their favorite things about you! And the sooner you ask them, the more you can impress them before they get around to picking up their pen.

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