When you are preparing your application, we have pretty much everything in your control – your test scores, your essays and applications. One thing which is not in your control is the recommendation that you will receive. A recommendation is the only artefact which is a third party view on your profile – this is somewhat like your NPS score.
Why do recommendations matter?
The recommendation is the only view of your profile, which is an outside-in view. Someone else is vouching for you and that is what matters the most. Some schools or universities require 2 to 3 recommendations – this is an attempt by them to get your all round perspective. That is why choosing a recommender is also a decision you need to take very carefully.
How to choose a recommender?
Schools believe that the recommender’s view is an honest view of your personality. Rightly so. When a school asks for 2 to 3 recommendations, make sure you provide recommenders from both academic and professional life. If you do not have any work experience, you should provide a recommender from any of your extracurricular work. Even if you do have work experience, make sure you provide a recommendation from a person who is from a different walk of life.
It is important to know that you have to trust the recommender wholeheartedly. See him or her like a surgeon, to whom to submit yourself during the surgery. You close your eyes and believe that the surgery will be successful by the time you wake up. That is why choosing a recommender requires careful analysis. Do not choose a recommender because he or she works at a top positon in their organization, but you should choose a person who is senior to you but also can provide deep insights into your career. In academics, do not choose a famous professor or your dean but choose someone who can vouch for your analytical thinking and research orientation. Remember that through the recommendations, schools want to know you well more. They are not worried about how famous the person is or how senior the person is.
Can you prep your recommender?
The honest answer is you can’t and you shouldn’t. If you try to put your words into their mouth, it will fall back on you and your recommender may not feel genuine about giving your recommendation. Once you have analysed your potential recommenders, list them down and try to have a one on one chat with them. Share your short and long term plans with them and recount your work or academic experiences with them. Recount your specific achievements and contributions in various areas. In the first meeting do not ask for a commitment from them on the recommendation.
If the school has asked for 2 recommendations, make sure you at least have 4 to 5 people who can be your recommenders. This gives you some flexibility on whom to choose for a particular school and also does not frustrate the recommender if you are applying to 10 schools or so. One recommender may not be a perfect fit, but you can choose which recommender would be a best fit for a particular school.
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