Who Knows (the Best) You?

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I recently wrote a post on who to ask for a letter of recommendation (Don’t Ask Your Dog!), where I stressed that the most important thing to remember is to START EARLY! Just in case you need another reminder to get working on picking your recommenders, here’s some more things to think about:

Another important rule to keep in mind is that you are looking for people who are not only willing to write nice things about you, but who honestly KNOW a few nice things about you! The closer you are to the people you choose, the easier it will be for them to know what to write, and the easier it will be for you to ask them for letters in the first place.

In my case, my Television Production teacher was happy to write me a simply amazing letter of recommendation for me to include in my application packets. I also asked the officer in charge of the youth court where I volunteered my time and expertise. He wrote me a spectacular letter, which included the hours I had worked and the lives I had touched. If you take a look at your own life, full of various classes and activities, I’m sure you will find that there are many wonderful people you know who are in a position to say great things about you!

Here’s one little piece of advice before we continue: Resist the temptation to ask a relative to write you a recommendation letter. It’s tacky and it’s lazy, not to mention the fact that a letter from a relative won’t go very far toward impressing the judges. Of course your mommy thinks you’re special. The committee would rather hear from someone who is not under any family obligation to like you! However, there are two situations where it may be appropriate to collect a letter from a relative (other than your parents!):

  1. If your family member serves a dual role in your life, such as also being your employer, baseball coach, etc.
  2. If your family member is in a position of significance that relates to the specific scholarship you are applying to win. For instance, if the award is being offered to a prospective law student, your aunt the District Attorney may be the best person to explain why she can picture you as a successful lawyer.

In these circumstances, it is a judgment as to whether or not you should speak to the person about excluding mention of the family relationship when h/she composes your letter. It would not be a “lie” for your uncle/ the coordinator of an after-school program for disadvantaged youth to simply state that he has known you all of your life, and that you have come in after school to tutor the children in his program for the past three years. Your uncle’s letter would, of course, focus on the quality of your volunteer work, and not mention how you used to entertain everyone at family get-togethers with your poorly crafted magic act. But it’s always better not to omit the fact that your recommender is a relative if you think that the full truth behind your relationship may come out one day!

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