235: What To Do When Asked to Write Your Own Grad School Recommendation

235: What To Do When Asked to Write Your Own Grad School Recommendation


This episode is for grad school applicants who have been asked to write  your own grad school recommendation. This situation sometimes comes up when a student asks a professor for a recommendation letter and the professor may be too busy or prefers to save time by asking you to write the first draft for them. Strategies to write these letters include reaching out to mentors for strong letter templates, structuring the letter to include academic achievements, addressing weaknesses in the application, highlighting leadership experiences, discussing future goals, and highlighting meaningful personal experiences. While this may be an uncomfortable scenario to find yourself in, trust that it’s not uncommon and doesn’t necessarily mean the professor will submit a weak letter.

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235: What To Do When Asked to Write Your Own Grad School Recommendation


Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: [00:00:00] Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Grad School Femtoring podcast. Today I am gonna be talking to you about what to do when a professor asks you to write your own letter of recommendation. I'm recording this episode because it was a question that came up. With one of my clients, so I'm actually recording this episode for her, and I thought, well, I might as well, you know, instead of just recording a video directly to her, I might as well record it as a podcast episode because this information is critical for anyone to have who's navigating the grad school admissions process.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And then you've, you know, worked up the courage to ask for letters of rec and lo and behold, they come back and say, sure, I'd be happy to, but can you write your own letter or Can you send me a draft of your letter? And I. I think I know what you're thinking because if I were in those shoes, what I would be thinking is, [00:01:00] hold up.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Hold up. How can you expect me to write my own letter when I've never even seen what a strong grad school admissions letter is supposed to look like? It also can feel quite. Awkward to write about yourself, and especially if you are a first gen Bipoc student, it might feel uncomfortable to, show off your accomplishments in a letter.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Some of us come from cultures where humility is something, is a value that we're taught to embrace, and so to. laud about our achievements to share publicly. The things that we've done can be hard. So we tend to undersell ourselves a lot of the times when we're talking about ourselves and what we've done, in our academic and professional achievements.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So yeah, what do you do? What do you do when that happens? My first recommendation is to [00:02:00] find out if there's any mentors or even, um, this could be professors, this could be graduate students, anyone you know in the higher ed space that could. Give you a letter of recommendation template. So this is obviously someone that knows you, that trusts you, that wouldn't mind sending you one of their letters or that wouldn't mind.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Um. Send, you know, some of them might send you a letter that they wrote about you. Some of them might send you a letter that they wrote about someone else, but then they redact the, any of the information that might reveal, their identity. So, um, they would send you a redacted letter. Uh, I say this because I think it's important for you to have an idea of.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: What these letters look like, how they are structured, what kind of material to present in the letter. [00:03:00] And if for some reason you cannot get a hold of a sample letter, that's when I would recommend, um, drafting a set of bullet points based on your achievements. And so when, when I've written letters.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Recommendation for students. And actually I still to this day get requests for letters of recommendation, uh, from folks who I have femme toward over the years. I like to pinpoint a couple of things, so I like to first provide context on who I am, what I do, uh, how long I have known this person, and in what context.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So obviously this. Part of the letter, you wouldn't be writing because you're not, you are not pretending to be that professor. So you would go straight into the rest of the material. And so letters of recommendation tend to highlight, uh, strengths, character [00:04:00] traits. So if you took this professor's course, for instance, you can name.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Something about the course that you did. So some sort of outcome, some sort of tangible thing. Did you work on a presentation? Did you write a paper? Uh, what did you do in that class that stood out? Did you do well? Did you get an A in the class? So, pinpoint those things. Another thing you can write about are.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Uh, anything related to your personal life and even obstacles that you have overcome in your personal life and how they tie in to your goal of pursuing graduate school. You can also talk about any leadership that, or leadership skills that you've gained and participation in student organizations, part-time work, volunteer work.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You can list those things out in the letter. Okay. And then [00:05:00] another thing that you can mention aside from, I'm trying to think of, I'm, I'm recording this off the cuff, right? So I don't have, um, any notes for this, but yeah, definitely starting out with like background information, then talking about. Your academic achievements, and especially if you can pinpoint, uh, achievements within the class and what you did and the context that they know you, um, talking about your personal life, talking about your.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Leadership experiences. You can also, oh yeah. Another good thing to do for a letter of rec is if you know you have a gap in your application. So if you know there's something about your application that isn't competitive, so maybe you. You have a lower GPA and you know you have a low GPA for your field.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Uh, you would address this gap and what happened in the context and what you did to overcome this [00:06:00] or what you're actively doing to overcome this issue. And the same can be said if the GRE is required for you and you're applying and you know that your GRE score is low, you can spend some time writing.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: About the context in which that happened, why that happened, and , how this is not an indicator of your potential. And then you can talk about the things that are indicators of your potential and the things that you are. Excelling at, I am trying to think about anything else. You can mention future goals.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You can end with, , highlighting some of your strongest attributes or character traits. But at the end of the day, I don't think that any professor expects you to write. The best letter, the strongest letter. A lot of times they're asking you to do this because they want something to start with so that they're not writing a letter from [00:07:00] scratch.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: They're also asking you to do this because they are busy. I. And if they're busy and you never know, they might have dozens of letters that they have to write in any given year. It's best for you to give them as much information as you can so that they can write a lengthy, substantial, and strong letter.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Then to just let them write their own letter. And sometimes folks, they say yes, and then they don't write strong letters. That's why I always say, when you ask for letters of rec, ask for a strong letter. Ah, because I've been on the other end, not for, not on the other end of grad school admissions, but on the other end of reviewing applications for highly competitive scholarships and highly competitive grad school preparation programs.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And I've seen some letters that were just a couple of lines long that clearly the professor just. Did it, you know, in a couple of [00:08:00] minutes. Didn't think twice, did not work hard to write a strong letter, and that's what upsets me. That's what I don't want to happen for you this time. So just to keep it short, I.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: If you've been tasked with writing your own letter of recommendation, definitely do your best to try to find some sort of sample, some sort of template, something to give you an idea of what it's supposed to look like. If you've never seen a letter of rec like this before, that's going to help you. And then the second thing is to at the very least, start with.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Ting out all of your achievements. Achievements related to your academics. The context in which you know, this professor, maybe you took a class with them, maybe they were your faculty mentor for your undergraduate honors thesis. , talking about. Some of the, personal experiences that you've had or forms of adversity that you've had to overcome.[00:09:00]

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You can talk about leadership experiences that are meaningful to you, that includes work experience, volunteer experience, student org experience. You can talk about your long-term career goals, and you can use the letter as a. Space to address any gaps. And again, if it's not a perfect letter, if you're afraid that you're not structuring it right, at the end of the day, it is the professor's responsibility to make sure that this is coming from them.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: That this is their writing that're asking you to write your own letter, but I assume and expect them to be revising, , and cleaning it up a little. Before they submit it. That's it for today's short episode. I hope that you found it helpful, especially to my client who is definitely dealing with that situation right now.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Good luck to you and I will talk to you all next time.

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