Examples of Recommendation Letters
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Letters of recommendation
are taken very seriously by graduate school admission committees. They
are a primary source of information regarding those qualities and
abilities which can not be measured objectively through GPA or test
scores. Graduate schools are looking for applicants who are personally
mature, responsible, motivated, committed to and personally "turned-on"
by psychology, and who, in general, will make a positive contribution to
their academic community. Responsible, enthusiastic participation in
class is one of the best ways to get good recommendation letters.
Most programs will ask for three or four letters of reference. These
should be from either college professors or supervisors from a
psychology related work, volunteer or research experience. At least two
of the letters should be from psychologists. Don't assume that people
will write you a positive reference; politely ask them if they feel that
they know you well enough to write a positive letter. Potential
references should be contacted early in the Autumn Quarter of the senior
year, and should be provided with your resume, a list of classes taken
from them (with grades earned) and addressed, stamped envelopes. Give
your letter writers a list of all of the schools you are applying to
(along with any specialized recommendation forms) at once. Do not give
them two this week, another the next week, and three more the third
week. Allow at least three weeks from the time you ask for the letter to
the time it is actually mailed. Remember, faculty are probably writing
letters for other students, and the end of the quarter tends to be a
busy time for faculty, too.
One of the advantages of a small liberal arts college like PUC is that
students have the opportunity to get to know their professors
personally. This is important, since a good letter of recommendation is
not just positive, but concrete and specific. A letter reading "Joe is
an enthusiastic, mature and superior student" is much less effective
than one that reads "Jennifer is the kind of student a teacher relishes.
In my Social Psychology class she regularly asked me for outside
references, and would come by my office to discuss her interest in
cognitive dissonance research." In order for teachers to write effective
letters like this, students must take advantage of small class sizes to
share their interests and personalities.
On the other hand, negative impressions are easily, if subtly,
communicated at a small school. Consistently sleeping through class,
turning in sloppy or late assignments, or getting by with minimum effort
are remembered and interpreted by faculty as immaturity, laziness or
apathy. The temptation may arise to "fake good" and attempt a
superficial interest or commitment. Not only is this usually easily seen
through, but it is foolishly counterproductive. If you are not genuinely
interested in some area of psychology, then why fake it? A more common
problem is the student who is genuinely interested and excited by some
areas of psychology, but is shy or uncomfortable about sharing this
interest with a teacher. Students are encouraged to take a small risk,
either in class, during office hours, or at one of the many
opportunities for informal teacher contact (club functions, chapel,
Sabbath school, etc.) and allow the behavioral science faculty to get to
know them. This will not only result in more concrete, and therefore
helpful letters of recommendation, but will greatly enhance the learning
community of our department.