Additional Skills

Asking for letters of recommendation


  • Relax, ask questions and be yourself-remember you have a lot to offer! “Please” and “thank you” are success key words – use them. Don’t forget to smile as you meet people during your visit.  
  • Nonverbal communication is important. A firm handshake, good posture, and grooming create a positive impression.
  • Do not look at your watch, phone, or an office clock during your interview.
  • Talk about the things you do well and what makes you unique – don’t be afraid to brag about yourself! At this moment, you are your own advocate! Mention any summer activities, sports, hobbies, awards you have won and any programs you gained acceptance to, like HPREP at Harvard!
  • When asked a question that calls for more than one word, do not just answer “yes” or “no” – try to elaborate.
  • Talk directly to the interviewer, looking at him/her in the eyes. Maintain eye contact with your interviewer at all times.
  • Ask questions about any major or program you may be interested in. Know the basics. Scour the school’s brochures and Web site. Learn as much about the institution as possible before you go in.
  • Learn about common college interview questions

Asking for Letters of Recommendation

  • Start as early as possible!
    • Identify potential recommenders at least a month before the due date of the application
    • It is unprofessional and generally a bad idea to ask for a letter of recommendation a week or less before the due date of the application (even two weeks before is not recommended)
    • If you wait until the last minute, chances are high that:
      • Your recommender will have an unfavorable opinion of you since you are procrastinating
      • Your recommender will not have enough time to write a good letter of recommendation and may say NO
      • Your recommender may have already been asked by other students to write recommendation letters and may not have time to write one for you too
  • Once you have identified potential recommenders, contact them right away
    • Contact them in person if possible; if this is not possible, you can just email them
    • What to include in your email:
      • A clear subject: e.g. “Letter of recommendation for QuestBridge Program”
      • A very brief description of what you are applying for and the due date of the program/scholarship/application
      • Specific language asking if they can write you a “strong” letter
      • Offer to provide them with any info they may need to write the letter; this is especially helpful for a recommender who you haven’t interacted with in a while; helpful info for your recommender may include:
        • Your resume/CV
        • Your personal essay(s) (which means you need to start early on this too!)
        • Your transcript
        • A short description of the mission and purpose of the program/scholarship/college you’re applying to
        • Meeting with them in person
    • What not to include in your email:
      • Typos, spelling/grammatical errors, etc.
        • Check and double check your email for typos and errors
        • You want your email to be as clear and professional as possible so make sure it is free of errors
      • Links for uploading the letter of recommendation
        • Don’t presume that the potential recommender will say yes; wait until they say so before sending them letter upload links and other documents
    • Example email:
      • Subject: Letter of recommendation for HPREP
      • Body:
        “Hi Mrs. Miller,
        I’m currently in the process of applying to the Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program (HPREP) at Harvard Medical School, which is a high school science and medicine outreach program. I was wondering if you would be willing to write me a strong letter of recommendation for it.
        The letter would be due October 1, 2017. I am currently in the process of writing my personal essays but I could provide you with those as soon as they’re ready, as well as any other materials you would need to aid you in writing the letter.
        Let me know if you have any questions. If you can write the letter, I’ll send you the request link and I’ll follow up with the above materials in the coming weeks. I look forward to catching up with you.
        All the best,
        [Your name here]”
  • If the potential recommender agrees to write you a letter or letters, immediately follow up with a thank you email and additional information
    • If you are applying for multiple programs/scholarships, include a list of program/scholarship names and the corresponding due dates
    • If the application requires you to input the name and contact info of your recommender(s), do that right away and tell your recommender(s) ahead of time that they will be receiving an email from the program
    • Ask your recommender if they want a reminder about the letter and when would be a good time to remind them
    • Example email:
      • Body:
        “Thank you so much for agreeing to write me letters of recommendation! I really appreciate it. Below is a list of programs I’m applying to and the due dates. I will send you the upload links today:
        • HPREP – due October 1, 2016
        • Dana Farber CURE – due February 17, 2017
        • UMass Med HSHCP – due March 17, 2017

Attached is my resume and my personal essays. Let me know if you need any other materials to help you write the letters. Also, please let me know if you want me to send you a reminder email when the deadline is approaching. When would be a good time to do this? (e.g. two weeks before, three weeks before, etc.)
Thank you again for agreeing to write me letters and let me know if you have any questions.
All the best,
[Your name here]”



What IS a resume anyway? Remember: a Resume is a marketing piece that presents you in the best possible light, for the purpose of getting invited to an interview or being admitted to a program. It’s not an official personnel document. It’s not a job application. It’s not a “career” obituary”! And it’s not a confessional.

What’s a resume about? It’s not just about past experiences! It’s about YOU, and how you performed and what you accomplished in those past experiences – especially the accomplishments that are relevant to the work you want to do next. A good resume predicts how you might perform in that desired future experience.

Resume Checklist

  • Do you like it?
  • Can you support each piece of information?
  • Is it grammatically correct?
  • Is it 1 or 2 pages in length?
  • Have you used action orientation?
  • Have you demonstrated skills?
  • Are all blocks of time accounted for?
  • Have you eliminated extraneous or irrelevant material?
  • Is it visually attractive?
  • Have you included correct mailing address and phone numbers where you can be reached, or where a message can be left?
  • If you used an objective, does it transmit meaning?
  • Is it focused to your audience?
  • Is it as jargon-free as possible?
  • Have you proofread it?
  • Has someone else proofread it?

When you have completed your resume, it is a good idea to have a friend critique it for any spelling, grammatical, or typographical errors. Above all, make sure it is specific, logical, and orderly. Generally speaking, the most endearing quality needed, besides completeness, neatness, and clarity is that you shine through it all. Never forget that a resume to a prospective reader is YOU!