All About Your Letters Of Recommendation

Tuesday 9/20/2016

At this point in the application process, you’re likely thinking about references—who to ask, what they should say, and so on—so that’s exactly what we’re writing about today. Think of these letters as verification of what you’ve accomplished, summaries of your intrinsic talents, and endorsements of your educational excellence. In other words, letters of recommendation count.

They’ll be scrutinized by admissions officers, weighed among other candidates, and used to form a larger picture of you as a person and student. They should be concise and positive, without sounding like carbon copies of every other letter we’ve read. Ready to get them done, and done the right way? Here are some tips to keep in mind when planning your strategy for recommendations:

Pay attention to the application requirements. Syracuse Law asks for up to three letters of recommendation. If you overwhelm an admissions staff with a stack of letters, you risk looking like you lack confidence, have difficulty conveying your own strengths and, worse still, can’t follow directions. Remember, recommendations are the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

Ask the right people. Think professors, lecturers, employers or internship supervisors—people who can attest to your professional strengths. Avoid asking family members, friends, co-workers or even teachers that date back several years. Our admissions team will want to read about your recent accomplishments, and although you likely excelled in your high school’s debate club, it’s not what we’re looking for now.

Set up appointments to meet with the people you’ve selected. Ask them if they’re comfortable with the task. Ideally, they’ll be eager to share what they know about you, your history, and potential. If they hesitate, or if they say they’re too busy, it’s time move on to the next person on your list. Give them an out: let them know you completely understand if they don’t have the time and will have no problem finding someone else.

Specify the focus. Once people agree to write on your behalf, give them some direction. Although they likely know what law schools are looking for, it doesn’t hurt to reiterate that it’d be great if they could write about your, say, research work or your leadership skills. Cumulatively, the letters should cover the entire scope of your talents, achievements, and potential, giving admissions a well-rounded picture of who you are.

Plan at least four weeks ahead, and give your references deadlines. Then, check in with them a week or two before the deadline and (courteously) ask if they’ve completed the letter, reminding them when it’s due.

Thank your writers—in person or by phone. Tell them how much you appreciate their support, then keep in touch as you progress through law school. They’ll remain vital connections as you build your professional network.

Considering Syracuse Law? Learn more about what we look for in letters of recommendation.