While the cover letter allows you to describe in detail a few activities, a resume lets you list many more of your extracurricular and academic achievements. This will be a valuable reference for those you have asked to write letters, as it may help those recommenders refresh their memories about what you have accomplished. As with the cover letter, take the time to tailor your resume for each of your recommenders so that it emphasizes the information that pertains specifically to them. For your math teacher, emphasize and list math coursework and grades as well as all the various math awards you have received. You may include your extracurricular activities, but place those in a lesser light. For an advisor of a public service club, however, highlight contributions to the club and include information about other public service work, placing less emphasis on all those math awards.
All recommenders have one thing in common: too much to do and not enough time. It's important that you check with each recommender a couple of weeks before the letters are due. You need to monitor the progress of your recommendations. You may find that they're complete and already in the mail. A more common discovery is that they won't have been touched. Be polite yet diligent when you ask about the progress. It's crucial that you work with your recommenders to get the letters in on time.
It's important to remember that even if it is a part of their job description, your recommenders are spending their time to help you. Remember this as you ask others to write recommendation letters and be sure to let them know that you appreciate their efforts. Sometimes, a thank-you gift is appropriate. Every time my mother wants to say thank you to a friend or acquaintance, she writes a note and gives a small token gift. My favorite is the "You Can't Spell Success Without U" mug because of its campy play on words.
Whether or not you select an equally campy token of appreciation, it's important that you thank your recommenders. After all, they are dedicating their free time to help you win funds for college.
The recommendation is an important opportunity for someone else to tell the colleges why you should be accepted or the scholarship judges why you deserve to win. You may have assumed that because others do the actual writing, recommendations are completely out of your control. But as you can see, that is not true. The secret is to not only pick the right people but to also provide them with all the information they need to turn out a great letter of recommendation. Armed with superb recommendations, your college and/or scholarship applications are sure to rise to the top.
Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.
By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
The only how-to book which shows all students how to get into the school of their dreams. Based on the experiences of dozens of successful students and authored by two graduates of Harvard, this book shows you how to ace the application, essay, interview, and standardized tests.