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If you are reading this page, you probably have asked me to write you a letter of recommendation or are thinking of asking me to write one. I put a lot of thought into each letter, and, being a slow writer, each one usually takes 3-4 hours for me to write (even when using a basic template). That is because each student is unique, and I want my letter to capture that uniqueness; I want my letter to not only convey academic ability and interests, but also personality, attitude, demeanor, character, etc. so that when an admissions officer reads the letter I write, s(he) pictures the student I know.

Here is what you need to do to get a letter from me:

1. Ask me in person or formally in writing (you can email me at: fuji DOT film DOT fan AT gmail DOT com) to write you a letter. I start thinking about the kinds of things I might write almost right away, so the earlier you ask, the better. I need 30 days from the time you complete step 3 to write a decent letter (not from the time you first ask me to write you a letter, with the exception of a couple individuals who asked me about two months ago but didn't have this information then).
  • If you want to make a positive impression, do this yourself (not your parents, for instance).
  • If you want to make a positive impression, do this before I get an email request from a faceless service (like Naviance or the Common Application, for instance).

2. If I say "yes", then give me the completed forms that the school provides.
  • Form 1 (request form): I can't complete your letter without the information on this form. However, I do NOT need a stamped envelope from you. If paper copies of letters are required, I will print them on school letterhead and put them in school envelopes. Then, I will give you the sealed envelope to mail.
  • Form 2 (brag sheet): Keep in mind that while your brag sheet gives me a better idea of who you are outside of class, I cannot write about any of those things unless I have witnessed them myself. It can be helpful to see how you have changed as a person throughout high school or how you have overcome particular challenges, and I like the question that says "What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?" I would recommend giving an example of each (not just one). I read the brag sheets, but they really have pretty limited usefulness to me in writing you a letter.

3. Next, write me a letter for yourself. It might be awkward, but I want you to tell me all of the great things about yourself that you think I should write about. Write in the first person. I really want anecdotes, examples. I know you are hard working - is there something you did that stands out in particular? I know you work well with others - for instance? Perhaps you are good at knowing when to joke and when to be serious - can you remember a specific time? If you can't think of specific examples (evidence) to support your description (claims) about yourself, then I don't think it is reasonable to expect me to remember them! In reality, we'll probably both remember different things, and taken together, we'll have the makings of a great letter. Keep in mind that you share most of the same adjectives as the other students who are asking me for a letter, so consider what makes you different than them? That is what the colleges want to know. Aim for 1-1.5 pages, single-spaced.

Here are some questions to get you thinking. Remember to support your answers with specific examples, preferably of things that I have seen myself.

  • Why did you ask me to write you a letter? What do you think I know about you that other teachers do not?
  • What are some of your strengths?
  • What are some of your weaknesses?
  • What are some of your unique qualities?
  • Describe (briefly) your academic curiosity and intellectual ambition.
  • What motivates you?
  • Give examples of your sense of humor as revealed in class.
  • What major assignments/projects did you complete in the class that you are especially proud of and why?
  • What things did you do in class that reveal your creativity?
  • What distinguishes you from other able students?
  • What kind of a learner are you? or How do you learn difficult ideas or skills best?
  • Were you prepared for class and did you actively participate in class?
  • Did you go above and beyond what was required for the class?
  • What did you contribute to the class on a day-to-day basis?
  • Describe your interactions with other students and adults (groups, one-on-one, etc.).
  • Describe your character.
  • How do you react to setbacks (difficulties)?
  • Did I give you an award or other recognition?

Here are some additional tips for writing letters. Look at the section on effective openings. This is often the hardest part of the letter for me to write, so help me out with a hook or opening! I always try to avoid the verb "is" (or any other helping verb) in the opening sentence. If there is an "is" in the opening, then it's probably a boring opening.

Writing Recommendation Letters by Kurt Klein

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4. Do whatever you have to do in Naviance for me to submit my letter. Since I'm going to spend a month or more working on your letter after you complete step 3, this part is not particularly urgent. However, I do tend to mentally prioritize letters for students who have all of their proverbial and actual ducks in a row. Wait, no, just the proverbial ducks.

Email me if you have questions!