Before I get to Kristina’s question today, let me first announce that WE NEED GUEST POSTS! For the next two weeks, anyway. I’ll be on the road constantly for the ad agency over the next two weeks (Santa Fe, N.M. and Vienna, Austria), so if any of you razor-sharp co-eds out there feel like pounding out a few hundred words about the school-related topic of your choice, please do so through the “Submit Your Question” link in the navbar above.
You don’t have to ask first — just paste your post into the “what’s your question” area and we’ll figure it out. If we can use what you send us, we will, and of course we’ll credit you and link back to your website or Facebook profile or wherever you want us to link to. Thanks in advance for the help!
Now, back to Kristina, who’s got a dilemma about letters of recommendation. I’m gonna go ahead and abbreviate those from now on as LOR, just to save my fingers a little work.
Hi Judge Josh! Thank you for all the anecdotes and comical relief from what is usually a stressful process (i.e. college and all of its counterparts).
Thanks for reading!
I am getting my degree next spring and am applying for graduate school. I’ve been working in a lab with a professor for four years, and he has always written wonderful letters of recommendation for me.
Outstanding! For those of you not as close to graduating as Kristina, it’s a good idea to cultivate these sorts of relationships with two or three professors so that they’ll write you LOR when you need them. Scope them out early — junior year, possibly even sophomore year if you know what you’re going to major in.
I will be graduating with a double major in Italian Studies and Integrative Biology.
I think you’re the only person I’ll ever meet with that double major. Wouldn’t have thought about that one when I wrote the double degree post the other day. Either way, congrats! You obviously have a brain whose left side and right side function equally well. 🙂
PROBLEM: I need THREE letters to apply for grad school!
No biggie. Obviously the best and easiest ones to get are from the profs who know you inside and out, but there can only be so many of those. You might find that teachers who have had you only for a couple classes, and perhaps even just one, will write you a strong letter.
Here’s a little tactic that’s worth doing, also (for everyone, not just Kristina): When you’re approaching that last letter-writer — someone about whom you just aren’t sure — lead with a combination of humility and flattery, even if neither is entirely heartfelt.
Example: Don’t just say, “Hey Dr. So-and-So, would you mind writing a grad-school recommendation letter for me?” Instead, say something like this:
“Hey, Dr. So-and-So, I’m preparing my grad school application for the University of Palookaville, and I need three letters of recommendation. I thought about it and I’d really like to have one of those come from you. But honestly, only if you feel like you’re familiar enough with my work for you to be comfortable recommending me. Is that something you’d be willing to think about and let me know in a couple of days?”
That’s a MUCH softer request, it feeds their ego a bit, it shows them that you’re respectful of the integrity of the recommendation process, and you also show respect to them personally by asking them to take time alone to consider it.
If they don’t say yes on the spot (they probably will), they’ll probably say so when they get back to you. And if they don’t, then hey — you did your best. If you’re a good student, you should have more than enough teachers respond positively to the above approach to fill out your grad school app nicely.
I have another potential professor now (I go to all his office hours and scored well on his last exam),
OK — he should be fine, too.
but I am wondering about the third one. I worked in her lab for 4 months when I studied a semester abroad in Italy and only talked to her a few times (she seemed like she was always busy, and I didn’t want to bother her, plus I was a little nervous about saying something wrong in Italian…). She said she would write a letter but admitted she doesn’t know me that well, so I imagination her letter is mostly speculation.
OK. Well, if she said she’d write you one, then it’ll probably be at least passable. If she didn’t feel like she could endorse you, then she would’ve told you no. However, if she came out and said “I don’t know you very well,” that sounds like she’s not 100% comfortable with it. Her letter will probably be fine, but you can probably do better.
Why don’t you go over your other possible professors and try the approach I recommended above? If they all say no, you can still use the Italian lady’s letter. Again, it’ll probably be fine to get you where you need to go, but you might as well try a couple more locally who know you better than she does and might give you something stronger.
Could this potentially weak letter of recommendation jeopardize grad school admission?
Eh…I kinda doubt it. LOR are only going to make or break you, I think, if your grades and test scores are very weak. If your grades and tests are solid, then the LOR are just there to ice the cake and/or let the committee know in some combination of code language and invisible ink that, despite your fine marks, you’re really a sociopath suspected in multiple off-campus homicides.
So, probably not. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!!
— What about you guys? Any recommendations on who to get LOR from if obvious examples don’t present themselves? Let us know in the comments below!