4 Tips for Letters of Recommendation

Low with Alma Mater One of the most valuable components of your application package are the letters of recommendation. These three letters tell us who you are from the perspectives of the professors, colleagues and supervisors who presumably know you the best. So make sure you chose three recommenders who, either individually or in aggregate, will give us the best sense of your qualifications for study at SIPA. When it comes to selecting these three people, you should:

1. Select Appropriate References SIPA prefers that your three references be a mix of professors, internship supervisors, and former or current employers/colleagues. (We do not recommend using relatives as references.) You should select references who know you and your work well enough to comment on it and should be people who will speak highly of you. When getting a reference from a job or internship, choose someone who was in a position of authority over you and who viewed your work firsthand. Don’t, for example, use the company president as your reference unless that person worked closely with you. (A generic paragraph from the CEO won’t hold more weight than a detailed-page written by a direct supervisor.) Also, do not use co-workers in positions equal to yours as their objectivity may be subject to question and their opinion not as highly valued.

2. Make Sure They Actually Like You OK, this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many letters we receive where the recommender admits in their letter that they have nothing positive to say about the applicant, or they don’t know why the applicant asked them to write a letter on their behalf. So make sure you choose people you actually have a professional relationship with and who actually want to write a letter for you.

3. Remind Your Recommender Who You Are Oftentimes you’ll be reaching out to a professor or former employer you haven’t spoken to in months (or even years). While they may remember your name, they’re not necessarily going to remember everything you accomplished while working with them. So it’s a good idea to give the recommender a written outline highlighting your job duties, classroom projects, accomplishments or skills learned under their leadership. Make sure the outline you provide them is as accurate and specific as possible to help jog their memory. If that doesn’t work, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to draft a letter yourself. It may be a little awkward writing your own recommendation letter, but it’s a great way to take an objective look at your performance. So you should be honest, but definitely not modest!

4. Tell Them About Your Goals, as They Relate to SIPA Don’t forget to explain to your recommender why you’re applying to SIPA and what you hope to accomplish with your degree. Too often we receive generic letters that don’t apply to the course of study you’re applying to, and therefore hold little to no weight. So when outlining your past achievements for the recommender to review, you should also include details that relate directly to the MIA/MPA program.