Here’s a very common question from a student:
There are three parts to this question:
- Is this the right thing for the recommender to ask?
- Do you feel that it is OK for you to write your own letter of recommendation?
- What should you include in your letter of recommendation / are there any samples out there?
DIY Letter of Rec – Good or Bad?
To the first point: I really really hate it when a recommender dumps off the letter writing onto the applicant; it’s a shame for both parties, and most admissions folk will tell you not to use that recommender. To the second point: Under the right circumstance, I really really like it when a student has a chance to work out a rough draft of their own letter of recommendation. It’s a fact of life — people are busy, you know yourself and your relationship with the recommender best — so it’s practical. But is it ethical?
That question is for each person to answer based on his/her own moral compass. If you’re OK with it, great! If not, then best to ask another recommender. As long as the recommender reads the letter and makes his/her own adjustments, this makes the letter their own, and your rough draft can be of real help to the recommender.
Finally, if you’re asked to write your own letter of recommendation, try offering this instead. Write up a set of “talking points” of your accomplishments. Include the main focus of the essays you’re writing for admissions committees. Turn this over to the recommender and see if they gives him/her enough to go on.
What Makes A Letter of Recommendation Great?
Now, to the third point. What should you include in your letter of recommendation?
To start with, I suggest you ask your recommender to share with you the outline / key elements of a good letter of recommendation. This will make the whole process easier for everyone — you get help figuring out what to include in the letter, and the recommender can start to craft the letter in the direction of his/her preference.
OK, what if the recommender doesn’t have anything, or isn’t willing to share? In that case, try contacting the pre professional / pre health or career office on your college campus and see what they have. Still nothing? Then you can always take a look at online resources. I recommend you look at Great Letters of Recommendation. That online guide has boatloads of sample letters, plus instructions on what to include in a good letter of recommendation for medical school. It also has other letter samples, too, so you can use it later in your career.
I say, Go for it!