You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.

Most things in life are not black or white. Rather, they lie somewhere in between. Sharing too little or no information will lead to them writing a short, insipid letter that could hurt you rather than help you. Sharing too much information will overwhelm or, worse, annoy them into writing a subpar letter which could once again hurt you.

Beyond sharing the foundational details, you need to carefully cherry-pick the achievements and highlights you want to mention, to refresh their memory of how amazing you really are. In no specific order, the following are recommended fields to share:

  • context of your relationship with them

  • brief description of the program you’re applying to and why

  • resume

  • CGPA (and/or semester wise GPA)

  • list of relevant internships/projects you’ve worked on

  • selective list of achievements

  • selective list of extracurricular and volunteering activities

  • instructions to write and/or submit the letter

  • deadline to submit the letter by (you don’t want to forget this)

​action​Ideally, we recommend you create a document with all the information mentioned above, so they have one or at most two documents to reference before writing your letter.

Putting all that into practice, below is an example of a good introductory email asking for a recommendation, assuming you cannot meet them in-person:

Subject: Request for Letter of Recommendation [thank you]

Dear [Title + Name],

I hope you are having a wonderful week so far! Firstly, thank you for taking the time to read this email.

I am reaching out to request for a letter of recommendation from you as I am applying for the master’s program in Energy Engineering at University of California, Berkeley, USA. My aim is to first pursue a specialization in Solar Engineering, followed by a doctorate degree.

One of the main drivers in pursuing this degree were your classes on physics and advanced mechanics. Your way of explaining a concept using real-life case studies motivated me to think of ways I can contribute to climate change by working towards building a sustainable renewable energy source.

I would be honored if you took the time to recommend my candidature to the university. I have attached below all the required information that you can use to write the letter, including, but not limited to: my past internship work, publications, transcript, impact through volunteering, and accolades received. Should you need any more information, please let me know. The recommendation is due on Oct 21st, five weeks from now.

That being said, I know you have an extremely busy schedule, and so I would completely understand if you don’t have the time to write this letter. Please feel free to say no. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your week.

Sincerely,

Neel

That’s it.

A polite, genuine, well-written email goes a long way in strengthening your relationship with the receiver.

If you noticed in the final paragraph, we alluded to something important: giving the receiver the opportunity to say no. Why is this important?

​think​Think about a scenario where you only have one restaurant to eat at, or worse, only one dish to choose from.

Would you be happy with being constrained to having a single choice, having no freedom to exercise your choice in the first place?

Probably not.

At least biologically, we like to exercise control:*

We are born to choose. The existence of the desire for control is present in animals and even very young infants before any societal or cultural values of autonomy can be learned. It is possible that organisms have adapted to find control rewarding—and its absence aversive—since the perception of control seems to play an important role in buffering an individual’s response to environmental stress.

When you give the other person the choice to refuse upfront, it helps them feel in control.

Paradoxically, giving someone the option to say no might improve the chances of them saying yes.

Keep this in mind for not just now, but also for your future encounters with people when you network.

We’re almost there. Now that you’ve chosen the right people and sent out requests for recommendation, it’s time to wait. And follow up diligently.

​action​In the Dream Tracker, ensure that you mention the submission deadline for each university and make use of the Add Reminder or other such add-ons* to set reminders to be sent to yourself two weeks before, so you can notify your recommender.

Assuming it takes the recommender at least four weeks to write and refine your letter, your first contact should happen at least a month or so in advance, and the follow-up should be two weeks before. As soon as you are notified of the submission of the letter, take time to draft another email expressing your gratitude.

Getting your dream admit requires the help and support of a village, and your recommenders play a key role in that village.

To Waive or to Not Waive

Every university you apply to will display the following message in the letter of recommendation section of the application.* This gives you the choice to either waive or not waive your right to view the recommendation submitted by the professor (or whoever you asked).

That question above is asking, Do you waive the right to request access to the information provided by your references?

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