Tips to secure a strong recommendation letter

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB), along with Nanda Warren from the Cooperative Learning Center (CLC) and Natasha Oehlman from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC), co-hosted a joint workshop teaching students strategies for receiving successful letters of recommendation on Sept. 23.

This workshop is one of five being taught in a graduate workshop series for students this Fall, and is a collaborative effort between UROC, the Career Center, the Transfer Center and the CLC, which is sponsored by the Title V Mentorship and Equity in Transitions to Achieve Student Success (METAS) grant. 

The purpose of the workshops are to guide students who are preparing to apply for graduate school, or other career preparations and ensure they have a strong letter of recommendation for any application.

This workshop, in particular, emphasized working closely with chosen reference writers to secure strong letters of recommendation for applications. There are five core steps in this process that were shown to best succeed. 

Step One – Selecting 

First step in the process is “select.” Deciding who you want to reach out to for a reference letter depends on the application and program. Pick someone that relates to the area or program you are applying for and make sure to assess the relationship, whether it be a colleague or professor. 

It is important that whoever is chosen has a good understanding of who you are and why you would be a good fit. 

Step Two – Contacting

Give the person you are asking an ample amount of time to produce the letter. A month in advance is a good time frame. 

If one wants to ask sooner, it is completely acceptable, but keep in mind that the further out one asks will require more organization and communication with the person one chooses.

Step Three – Prepare

After contacting the person who will be writing the letter of recommendation, it is good to prepare them on the program details and key points they may need to mention in the letter, as well as being prepared for the writer to ask any questions during their writing process. 

Providing the writer with enough information will better assist them in drafting a strong letter. 

Step Four – Check in

Chances are, the person writing the letter of recommendation has a busy schedule. It’s a good idea to periodically check in with them, in addition to keeping oneself on track with deadlines

Reminders are always helpful and can go a long way. It is not “bugging” the person, more so letting them know you care and are organized.

Step Five – Give Thanks

The final step in the process is to thank the letter writers for all the hard work and effort in supporting your next educational goal. 

A simple “thank you for your time,” along with updating them on the admissions status and other types of achievements you might receive goes far. 

The person writing the letter wants to help and see success.

Utilizing these steps enables those who are applying to graduate school to have stellar and strong recommendation letters that will separate them from other applicants.

The five-part workshop series also entails the entire suite of virtual grad school events that are available on My Raft. Students are encouraged to visit the CLC to learn more about the five steps, and get feedback on emails to possible faculty or colleagues writing for graduate school applications and career preparation. 

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