You realize that you want to apply for a university, a program, or a scholarship and under the requirements you notice that it requires a letter of recommendation. This can send you in to a moment of panic because who will you ask and how they could complete the recommendation letter within only a few days. The first thing you should do is write a well crafted email to this person asking as soon as you know saying that you are willing to provide extra details if they will write the paper. This information to relieve both your fears and the pressure on the other individual is very important in your follow up email.
Make sure that you have an up to date resume. In this case, instead of the normal concise one page resume, you can elaborate on each activity or job. This way they get to know about you in fields they may not as well as have all the ways to answer questions. There are different things you will want to have on your “resume” depending on if your level of education.
High Schoolers: GPA/rank in class(if your school has that), any clubs or activities that you participate in, leadership roles, honor societies, community service, work experience, any college prep summer programs
College Students: GPA, any clubs or activities that you participate in, leadership roles, honor societies, community service, work experience, High School info if you are a freshman, any classes that are relevant to your major of study, large projects that you’ve done that have concrete results
Your summaries should be long enough that the recommender doesn’t have to continuously ask you for details but short enough that they get the main points of the story. For example say the scholarship is for science and you completed a science project that involved working in a team. On you resume write about this project including the problem, the results, your interactions with your partners, and why this made you excited about science. Now your recommender has details they can use without having to make anything up.
Another great way to alleviate time is to attach previous recommendation letters. Sometimes students do not realize all the great things they’ve done but others are able to look at them and see that. By showing how someone else describes you to the recommender they may be able to learn new things about you that you may not have highlighted on your resume. Also if they haven’t written many recommendation letters this gives them a template to follow.
Since you have likely written a lot of info and can’t seem to condense it make sure to point out which things you would like them to highlight. So say you mention the science project on your resume, in the email say please talk about the science project in your letter. This way they don’t have to guess which info you’d like them to include. Anything else they add is nice but they’ve now hit the important thing to you.
Hopefully the person you’re asking to write you a letter of recommendation does know you whether they are a teacher, a coach or otherwise. Knowing your name versus knowing your character is very important for letters of recommendation. If they know you and honestly like you then it will be much easier for them to write a letter of recommendation for you. If they are familiar with you in a certain setting ask them to highlight that. For example: “As Rachel’s mentor I have watched her grow over the past three years. She has become more outgoing and more passionate about her future endeavors.” Or “As Samantha’s coach I have seen her athletic skills grow to higher levels through all of the extra hours she puts in. Her level of dedication to soccer is a feature I do not see very often.” These personal snippets help identify who you are as a person.
The most important thing through all of this is having a relationship with your recommender. A person you have a relationship with will be able to write a paragraph about you within a few minutes highlighting all of your great features. This paragraph may not be the most organized but it’s a start. With all the other supplemental information you’ll provide it will enable them to write you a letter of recommendation in no time. However it is extremely important that you write them a thank you letter after they have completed your recommendation. This way your relationship stays strong and you don’t have to worry about asking them for letters of recommendation in the future.