When I am discussing my LOR with my recommender, is it a smart move to have him or her include one of the stories from my essays? Or should I just let him or her do their own thing and discuss completely different stories so the adcom knows more about my background and accomplishments?
The short answer here: Yes, you should be sure that your Letter of Recommendation does talk about much of the stuff that is in your application. After all, that is one of the only ways that the school will know that you are telling the truth in your application. However, there’s a biiiit more to it than that….
The longer answer: You must also be sure that your Letter of Recommendation covers NEW stories that you haven’t had a chance to cover yet in your application. We tell all our clients that 70% of the letter of recommendation will be covered in your app, and 30% will be brand new info.
Let me give you an example from my personal experience. When I applied to HBS in 2003, I asked a former boss to write a rec for me. Later, after I’d been accepted to HBS and Stanford GSB (among others), I read her LOR–and what I saw surprised me. First of all, of course she corroborated my stories – Yes, Jon was an analyst and was promoted. Yes, he ran valuations on a number of big real estate properties. But also…I read that she called me very FUNNY. Ha! Who knew? She remembered stories that I had long since forgotten. I also read that she said I was the best analyst she had ever had.
I honestly had no idea that that was true, and I would never have thought to even say that.
So what’s the moral of the story? No matter how great you assume your LOR would be (should you write ’em yourself) always let the recommender write it for you. Always. Even if they are busy busy people with no time to sit down and physically type the thing up…. find a way to get their actual thoughts on paper. Because that’s what the adcoms want – their thoughts – so that’s what you should want, too. And while the LOR will cover many of your stories, ideally there will always be MORE out there–the almighty 30%–that they can also add to your application beyond the stories you’ve covered already.
Hope this helps!
— Jon Frank
Got a question you want to ask Jon? Email firstname.lastname@example.org!