Very common question we get –> “Who would be a good reference for me if I’m applying to the Fisher SMF program? What should a good letter of reference include?”
The primary criterion you should use when determining who you should approach to be your reference is “someone who knows me WELL enough to write a STRONG letter of reference.” A strong letter of reference is the sort of recommendation that introduces relevant information about the subject (e.g. you) that we would not be aware of if we had not read the letter. For example, a letter that regurgitates and summarizes easy-to-obtain information is NOT a strong letter of reference. If a recommender references your GPA, for example, this is not unique information – we’ll see your GPA on your transcripts. If a recommender states simply that “(you) are an active member of the XYZ Community Service Organization,” this is not valuable information, especially if your involvement with that organization is listed on your resume.
A more valuable recommendation will provide the admissions committee with information about you that the committee could not obtain elsewhere. For example, if your reference is a professor for which you had a class, him or her saying that “you’re a good writer” is interesting. It becomes very useful for the admissions committee if that recommender states why s/he believes you are a good writer. In other words, s/he provides proof to support his/her opinion of you. This is much more effective that simply saying “(you) got an A in my class – s/he is a very good student.” Or if your recommender wants to comment on your involvement in the XYZ Community Service Organization, this is effective if s/he discusses what you accomplished in the organization, any positive results that occurred as a result of your involvement, and why s/he believes your involvement is indicative of your potential for success in this program. In summary, the best letters of reference do not simply tell us “what” –> the best letters explain why – and in detail. The best letters talk about those characteristics about you that, in their opinions, indicate your potential for success in the program if you were to be admitted and enroll.
Who should you approach for your recommendations? If you’re still in school or you’re a recent graduate, academic/faculty references carry the most weight with the admissions committee. If you have been out of school for a few years or more, it’s likely that professional references may be most appropriate in your situation. Do not get letters of reference from family, friends, and/or friends of your family <– these type of letters are judged negatively by the admissions committee.
We look forward to reviewing your applications!