Why are letters of recommendation important?

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Hello and welcome to “Quick Question,” the jcomm advising podcast. Today’s quick question is about letters of recommendation. Why are they important?

Let’s take a sec to talk a little about what letters of recommendations are. That phrase means different things and formats can certainly vary. Some letters of recommendation are preprinted forms where recommenders rate you on specific traits and then sign their name at the end. Some are pre-printed forms that ask more open-ended questions. Some are a combination of both. And some are neither. Some letters of recommendations are actual letters or memos written to specific people or committees or organizations on your behalf. There is no one set format. The person/committee/organization requesting the letters of recommendation will dictate what format they want.

So, why are LOR important? Well, in essence, they’re a chance for someone to vouch for you, a chance for someone to stand up (so to speak) and say, “this is what I think of this person.” In all cases, it’s a chance for you to (hopefully) showcase your strengths without you having to toot your own horn. We say “hopefully” because LOR have been known to backfire. Note to self: If you ask someone to write you a LOR, be confident that person’s going to say nice things about you. It’s OK to ask them what type of letter they’ll write for you.

Within the School of Journalism and Communication, LOR come in handy for a variety of reasons. You may need them to apply for scholarships or study abroad programs. Or maybe you need them for a job or internship application. Students who want to petition for admission into the school are highly, highly encouraged to include LOR in their petition packet. 

Some things to keep in mind about LOR:

  1. As mentioned before, be sure you’re confident the person will give you a good evaluation.
  2. Give your recommenders an ample window of opportunity to write you a recommendation. It’s not nice to ask someone for a recommendation two days before you need it. A two- to three-week window is best.
  3. It’s sometimes challenging to approach a faculty member for a LOR if all they know you from is a big lecture class. We have two suggestions. First, make the request in person. Sometimes seeing a face will jog their memory. Second, bring in copies of the work you did in their class. If nothing else, they may be able to write you a letter based on a second analysis of your work.
  4. Provide your recommenders with as much information as you can about why you need the letter. Some letters have to address specific things. If so, you’ll want to make sure your recommenders know that.
  5. Finally, make sure your recommender is appropriate for the type of letter you need. For example, if you need a LOR that evaluates your ability to work well in a group or interact with others, your adviser may not be your best source for this letter. He or she probably only saw you in a one-on-one advising setting. A professor, on the other hand, would be more likely to gauge your interaction with your classmates in a particular class.

“Quick Question” is an advising podcast provided by the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. Visit the Student Services office in 101 Allen Hall, on the web at jcomm.uoregon.edu or on Twitter at SOJCAdvising.

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