Three Tricky Questions on Recommendations

Recommendation Letters

Three Tricky Questions on Recommendations

Solid recommendation letters are essential. "Recs" are used by admissions officers to gain perspective on your contributions to your previous academic community and to gauge, in a more objective fashion, your potential to positively impact your target university.

In this post, we answer three of the trickiest questions facing applicants.

Who should I ask for a recommendation -- the Dean who doesn't know me very well or my lecturer who knows me better but is less well-known?

Experience shows that you are better off going with the professor who knows you better. This way, they can write you a strong recommendation letter that speaks on your academic merits, personality, aspirations, and potential. This specificity means much more than very generic praise from a big name at your university. Consider the difference between “Dayu is a strong student at Fudan University” and “Dayu consistently brings fresh insights, sharp questions, astute observations, and a genuine joy for learning that enlivens each seminar in which he participates.” One is bland and boring (even if written by the Dean) and the other brings the candidate to life in a compelling fashion.

Does a recommendation from my internship boss work?

Some professional schools (like business, public policy, public health) will ask for a “supplementary recommendation” from a work supervisor to evaluate your career skills. If you plan to apply for one of these programs (or plan to enter the job hunt later) then it’s a great idea to earn a reference from your boss. I worked for Merrill Lynch and used my supervisor's recommendation to help earn admission to business school. If your aim is to get a PhD or go for a Masters in the sciences then a rec from your work supervisor will not be very meaningful for the admissions committee.

What if my professor asks me to write my own recommendation so he can sign off? What should I do?

This is a tough question but the right thing to do is to provide clear guidance on the purpose and objectives of the recommendation without writing the rec yourself. American and British universities can rescind your offer of admission if they find you’ve authored your own recommendations so it’s wise to refrain from doing so. You are much better off having your professor write your recommendation in Mandarin and then using a certified translation service to translate the recommendation letter to English. By submitting the original along with a certified translation, universities will put greater trust in the recommendation's legitimacy.


Greg Nance

ChaseFuture CEO