Letters of Recommendation are a key element of any application, whether that be for a college application or a job interview. In fact, letters of recommendation are the only part of your application that may seem to be entirely out of your control. However, there are many things you can do to boost your chances that the letter will improve your profile.

Nonetheless, it is important to note that the letter of recommendation will rarely make or break your application – it is unlikely a mediocre, or even below average, recommendation will destroy your chances. However, a very strong letter can set you apart from the pack.

Therefore, you should do everything possible to get the best letter of recommendation you can. Being timely in your request and being polite are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to getting a good recommendation. In this blog, we’ll explore how you can use your recommendation to set yourself apart from other applicants.

Related: How to Make Your College Application Stand Out

8 ways to get an excellent letter of recommendation

Your letter of recommendation is a critical part of your application. By focusing on your request and making sure you optimize your ask, you can get the best letter possible.

  • Build a relationship from day 1.

Having a strong rapport with your requestee is essential to receiving an appropriate, sincere, and genuine letter. If you form a bond with your advisor from the start, they are less likely to use a cookie cutter recommendation format and more likely to write one that truly highlights your unique qualities. In fact, a strong relationship with your advisor can be the bump you need to have them write a letter that depicts the intricacies of your personality, rather than a shallow description of your easily recognizable traits.

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  • Be careful who you ask for a letter

Conversely, asking a person with whom you have a poor relationship can be detrimental to your application. If they are kind, they will generally tell you they are unable to write a compelling letter. However, if not, an ill-spirited letter may harm your chances, since most companies and universities will assume you would be able to pick an advisor that likes you. Therefore, if the best you can do is find a teacher that dislikes you, companies will not look at your application favorably. Being close with your advisor and meeting with them outside of regular hours will help guarantee a better letter.

  • If possible, ask in person.

While extenuating circumstances (like the Coronavirus!) may not allow you to ask in person, asking your recommender for a letter in real life shows your confidence and sincerity. While it is permissible to email you recommender if you aren’t able to catch them or if they no longer live in your vicinity, it is preferable if you are able to visit them. This also gives them an opportunity to ask you any questions and is a great time to give them a resume for reference. If you ask in person, this also gives your recommender an opportunity to discuss the submission platform and due date to avoid any last-minute problems.

  • Give adequate enough time for the recommender to write

On that note, the best way to avoid last-minute issues is to make sure you ask for your recommendation well ahead of time. If you wait too close to a deadline, your recommender may be unable to write the letter. Even worse, your recommender may agree but write a poor quality or rushed letter of recommendation.  You can also avoid errors with the technical reception of the letter by having the teacher submit their letter well before the deadline. While not a requirement, this step is the most important to secure a well-written and comprehensive letter.

  • Provide the recommender with additional information about yourself i.e. resume, grades, and copy of the application.

Providing your recommender with a holistic view of yourself, including information they didn’t know beforehand, is the best way to have your recommender touch on all the aspects of your personality. This is especially important for industry or major-specific letters of recommendation – having your recommender discuss your extracurricular or volunteer activities can be the boost you need to showcase your commitment to your passions. You can also give your recommender more information by having a quick chat with them before they write the letter or submitting other supplemental materials, such as grades or a musical piece.

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following up with a thank you letter

  • Follow up with a thank you email or letter. 

Just as in most cases, you should always write a thank you letter for your recommender. At best, it will improve your recommender’s impression of you and have him or her write a better or more genuine letter. Regardless, it is common courtesy to thank someone for doing a favor for you, and writing a proper letter of recommendation is no easy task.  It’s also polite to give a small gift if you know your recommender in that context. If you are accepted to your position, you can also update the person following your departure into the new job or university.

Structuring a Letter of Recommendation

Provide an example

Letters of recommendation often follow a very formulaic structure, describing the person and then their activities. This isn’t inherently bad, but a more creative and unique letter of recommendation will likely set the applicant apart as one who the recommender really cares about and wants to succeed. 

To do so, you should describe the traits that make this person stand out. Rather than doing so directly, you may describe the application in relation to specific memories that you remember or specific activities the applicant participates in. Showing the true personality of the applicant, juxtaposed with their strengths and extracurricular involvement, is the best way to highlight their potential. 

Related: How to Get College Scholarships


Writing a letter of recommendation is no easy task – it often requires many drafts and many consultations of the applicant’s resume.

However, asking for that letter can be even more daunting to the applicant. Given the weight of the letter of recommendation and the power it has to potentially set the applicant apart, you should make sure to take your time in requesting this letter and consider your options. Determining your relationship with your mentors and your past experiences with them will help guide your decision so you make the best choice. 

Nevertheless, it is most important to remember that the recommender is just another person. Common courtesies, like asking nicely and with plenty of time to spare, are key to ensuring you get the best letter you can. So, when you ask for your next letter of recommendation, don’t be afraid – just be genuine and prepare for the best!

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