When I first began applying for scholarships and programs I would cringe at the sight of “Letter of Recommendation required.” I would rack my brain and try to figure out who in the world would write me a letter! Letters of recommendation require so much more than just a simple request. They require a relationship to be built, responsibilities to be given, and character to be displayed. The best advise I can give for a stellar letter of recommendation is to start building connections NOW! I have written out a few tips and tricks for requesting letters and proper etiquette that goes along with doing so.
Focus On the Field:
When you are building relationships with professors and supervisors make sure that at least one of those people is a registered dietitian. I was not very good at getting volunteer positions with registered dietitians so it was a challenge for me to find a RD to write me a letter when required. If you are applying for an internship program many of them will recommend having at least one RD write you a letter of recommendation. I asked my DPD director, research professor, and advanced nutrition/soon-to-be research professor to write my letters. Only one of them was a RD, which I’m assuming didn’t look great on my application. So try to build a strong professional relationship with at least one registered dietitian. Having connections to volunteer coordinators and non-RD professors is not a bad thing! Some of my best letters of recommendations have come from employers, volunteer coordinators, and professors that aren’t even in nutrition! This is just one thing I wish I would have done as an undergrad!
Get Over the Fear of Asking
When you build relationships with professors, employers and registered dietitians they are more than happy to write a letter of recommendation for you. In fact, they expect it! I remember thanking my adviser countless times and apologizing for asking for another letter of recommendation. She quickly stopped me and explained that it came with the territory. She told me how it was almost a form of payment. Professors count on their students who participate in different programs. They know and see the countless hours that students put in studying, preparing and attending events. A letter of recommendation is a form of compensation for the student putting in all that effort. However, NEVER feel entitled to a letter of recommendation but never fear asking for one.
Don’t Fear the NO!
Don’t be afraid of being denied by someone writing you a letter of recommendation. When I was applying for a scholarship it required a letter of recommendation from an employer. I went to my supervisor of TWO YEARS and she told me no. She said that she didn’t like writing letters for her employees and she would be happy to fill out a form but she did not want to write a letter. So I gave her the form to fill out and it was horrible! I ended up not even using it because she was not able to speak successfully on my behalf. I went to a previous employer instead who wrote me a TWO PAGE letter of recommendation. So don’t be afraid of someone rejecting your request, it doesn’t say anything about who you are, it might just be a personal preference.
When I was applying for DICAS I learned that it was required to submit a letter of recommendation from your program director. My program director knew that she was going to be responsible for writing a dozen or more letters of recommendation that year. Although she was prepared to do so, the ask was still required. I still had to formally go into her office and ask her to write me a letter of recommendation. I try to ask for letters of recommendation in person. If this is not possible due to time or distance then asking over email is also acceptable. If I have never asked someone for a letter of recommendation though before I try to make sure it is in person.
After the Letter
So you’ve built your relationship, gotten over your fears and asked for the letter of recommendation….now what? Always be sure to informally and formally thank your letter writer. I will typically send an email after I have received the letter of recommendation or know that the writer has sent it in. Then I will get a thank you card and hand write a more personal thank you. Once I get into the program or receive the scholarship I will send another thank you email informing them that I got in/got the scholarship. I think this is such an important part of the recommendation process. I love having an excuse to remind my mentors and professors just how important they are in my academics and future career.
Letters of recommendation can be a stressful part of DICAS and scholarship applications. Preparing ahead of time can save you an awkward conversation with a professor that you only had in a general ed class. So start building relationships now! The value extends so much further than just an impressive letter of recommendation.