Letters of recommendation are a BIG deal.
They can be the difference between your application getting tossed in the trash and the college admissions officer wishing that you’d date their daughter.
Most letters of recommendation are trash.
They are only space filler. Their only purpose is to fill a requirement.
With a killer letter of recommendation…
You can make up for grades that barely (or don’t even) meet the minimum qualifications of the college to get your application stacked on the top of their “sure-thing” pile.
By the end of this article, you’re going to know:
1. How to find the RIGHT person to ask for a recommendation
2. How to get them to write a powerful and persuasive letter of recommendation
3. How to NOT submit a letter of recommendation that’s going to get your application shredded
1. Who should you be asking for this letter of recommendation?
You probably shouldn’t be asking the super-popular teacher that everybody loves and is already asking recommendations from for your recommendation.
The popular recommendation writer has their letter of recommendations down to a boring formula. The teacher (probably) will write a completely boring letter designed to make everyone just happy enough not to complain.
Ideally… you want a recommendation from someone that you have an unusually close relationship with.
This relationship doesn’t have to be perfect.
Heck… they probably don’t even have to like you all that much. (They just have to respect and like you enough to be willing to do it for you.) You just need to have had some time working together (even if it is because you were struggling with something.)
Your goal isn’t to find somebody that’s super friendly.
Your goal is to find somebody that has a good story about you.
You know, that teacher that you had to spend extra time working with to improve your grade? She could tell that story.
It’s better if you don’t look perfect in your letter of recommendation.
“Joe is a self-starter who is self-motivated and loves learning. He always does that work that he needs to do to succeed and he is a good member of the class environment…”
UGHHH! It just makes you want to throw up, right? Maybe it’s just me…
All good is BORING!
Boring… is pointless.
Because boring doesn’t get read.
Imagine your letter of recommendation starting with…
“At the beginning of the semester, I was worried about Joe…”
That college admissions officer is going to read the next line because they’re going to be desperately curious to learn why the person was worried and what happened to Joe to change this.
The power of the letter of recommendation is in the story.
Otherwise, you might as well just be writing a letter of recommendation that obviously won’t convince anyone of anything. To make a difference, it needs to be interesting.
Rougher relationships are much more interesting.
And… even if you think they won’t give you a letter of recommendation…
You might be surprised how flattered someone can be at the request… especially from someone that they didn’t have a great relationship with. (You can get rejected as many times as you like. The college never gets a list of those that refused to write your recommendation.)
Oh… and naturally… alumni of that college can be an advantage too.
2. How To Get Them To Write A Killer Letter Of Recommendation
If you want, send a letter of recommendation author to this article.
If you don’t, here are the key points.
“Please be honest about me. I want them to know who I am, flaws and all.”
Your flaws are what make you an interesting human being (as opposed to another inhuman applicant that the admissions guy completely forgets about as he throws away the application.)
You don’t need to ask a person writing a letter of recommendation to be nice in the letter. They will usually lean towards being WAY too friendly towards you (even if they don’t really like you.)
This honesty will make the positive things they say about you that much more believable.
“If possible, please tell (THIS) story because I think it says a lot about me.”
If the person you’re talking to participated in a story where:
– you grew as a human being
– you did something impressive
– you made a mistake and corrected it
Then ask the person to talk about that particular story.
Stories are great for letters of recommendation.
Stories make an impact. They don’t just check the box.
This is something that most people find easier to write than the usual boring “I like this guy” crap that gets written.
It focuses the person on events (and interesting things) more than broad persuasion.
“This is how the college wants it…”
Give the teacher the college’s deadline. Give the teacher the info they need to submit it.
3. How To NOT Submit A Letter Of Recommendation That Will Get Thrown In The Trash And Forgotten
I know some folks are squeamish about this but…
Whenever possible, you want to read the letter of recommendation you’re getting from someone…
No… not because you should be concerned they’ll say something bad about you… (In fact, like I was saying before, this bad stuff is often a good thing.)
99% of people would just refuse to write a letter of recommendation if they wanted to say something bad. (Seriously… don’t ask people that are genuinely mean. Always ask people you think are good people, even if you’ve had problems with them in the past.)
Because you don’t want to misrepresent who you are or distract them from a single consistent message.
If one guy says, “Joe worries about efficiency instead of working hard for hard work’s sake.” And then another guy says, “Joe is always a hard worker.” Then… it kind of kills some of the power of either statement.
In that situation, you’re no longer a relatable human being to the admissions officer.
You’re a question mark.
That hurts your chances.
So… if you’re offered/allowed to read the letter of recommendation then take advantage of it but remember 1 thing:
Never ask someone to remove something negative about you. Never. You can always ask them to explain the positive differently or if they’d prefer to say something differently but when it comes to “bad” stuff… let it stand as is.
If it’s truly an unusable recommendation then you can always politely thank them and ask them not to submit it (or just never ask this person for another one.)
They’re doing you a favor (even if it’s not what you were hoping for.)
What about when you can’t review the letter of recommendation?
The strategy recommended in this article comes with one big SCARY problem…
If you’re not allowed to read the letter of recommendation… then…
It can be super scary to ask a person that you don’t have a perfect relationship with to write it.
Because you’ll never know if they wrote, “This guys an idiot. Keep him away from your school.”
You don’t have to worry about that.
Sure… Out there… there is one asshole willing to write a cruel letter or recommendation.
But 2 things…
1. 99.99% of people wouldn’t waste their time writing a letter to be mean. They just wouldn’t write it.
2. Imagine you’re an admissions officer getting a letter of recommendation, saying, “This student never worked hard in my class and was never paying attention…”
It sounds to me… like that student is a human…
At least more of a human that Joe the hardworker/self-starter/intelligent/super-likable guy.
Even if the teacher writes something mean…
It will still be more interesting, more memorable, and significantly less boring than your average letter of recommendation.
And a HUGE part of a great letter of recommendation is just that…
So… go big or go home with your letter of recommendation.
(And make sure to write them a thank you note aftwards.)
This is an absolutely essential read for anyone on this blog.
I’m about 4 hours away from something big.
The story began a decade ago when I first started to share my study strategies with other students.
I had figured out the Holy Grail of academic optimization strategies – and every intermediate step to get to it. Using this strategy, I pulled a nearly 4.0 GPA while running a double course load in college – and once I started sharing it.
Droves of them.
And then teachers noticed.
Most of the teachers that were looking out for their student’s best interest got what I was saying and supported the cause. Others… well… not everyone has the student’s best interest at heart.
Early on (even before Smart Student Secrets,) I started writing for average students.
I knew… I was NEVER one of the “smart kids”. I was mediocre at best. And I knew, if these strategies worked for me then they could work for just about anybody. And that’s who I wanted to connect with.
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I built an audience giving these strategies away. Sure…
And I’d get messages from them. And we’d talk. And I’d hear their stories.
I’d hear from A+ students that cut their study time by 90%.
I’d hear from B students that took their grades up to A’s.
I’d hear from teachers that were sharing my strategies with their students.
I’d hear from older students how these strategies changed their life.
I love it. I love introducing these strategies that changed my life to other people.
But there was always this… but…
What about the C students?
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What about the students that are currently failing?
Sure… Some would reach out.. but…
They never followed through… They’d take a small step. They’d sign up. They’d learn some killer strategies. Seeing right there how powerful they were going to be…
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