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Letter of Recommendation: Writing One Yourself

By Peterson's Staff updated on Wednesday, May 08, 2013

When requesting a letter of recommendation, don't be surprised if your instructor or supervisor hands the forms back to you and says, "Sure, why don't you go ahead and write the first draft yourself, and I'll revise it and sign at the bottom."

Write your own letters of recommendation? It can happen

In cases like this, chances are that person will already be handling (or dodging) a large number of such requests, and busy schedules sometimes call for college letter of recommendation-writing delegation. This is particularly true within professional settings, where employees are expected to carry out self-evaluations.

You might at first find the assignment rather awkward, but this is a great opportunity to make sure the letter of recommendation matches your goals and effectively highlights your most relevant achievements. When preparing to write a draft for your own letter of recommendation, the following pointers will help.

Balance praise with candidness
Many people feel uncomfortable praising themselves. If you are the shy type, cast aside your timidity and try to be objective about your accomplishments. Letters of recommendation are, by definition, laudatory: grab a sheet of paper and make a list of your good qualities.

On the other hand, don't completely discard modesty and err on the side of pure, distilled self-praise: your teacher might not agree that you are indeed "superhumanly brilliant", and readers are much keener on candid, well-balanced letters than ones rife with superlatives.

Discard the fluff
Writing your own college letter of recommendation is not unlike putting together your resume: you must choose your accomplishments carefully. A letter that highlights two or three specific qualities, accomplishments, and achievements is far stronger than one that covers all your positive traits. If you are having trouble paring down the content, ask a friend or family member to pick out the most impressive points.

Maintain credibility
Concentrate on making the letter believable. This doesn't mean just sticking with the facts; it means finding a voice that accurately portrays you from the recommendation writer's perspective. Remember that the letter must be stylistically different from your other submitted written work. Vary your vocabulary, adapt expressions, and generally avoid phrasing things exactly as you did, say, in your admission essay or cover letter.

Avoid redundancy
Don't repeat accomplishments that have been described in detail elsewhere in your application. The letter should support your main accomplishments rather than merely rehash your resume. Write about them in a new light, expanding on areas where you did not have the opportunity to elaborate on elsewhere.

Remember, letters of recommendation are important parts of the admissions process, just as a college interview or admission interview is, and should be treated as such. The ability to have a hand in writing the letter is fortunate. For some students, these letters will be a crucial element in acceptance.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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