For many applicants, letters of recommendation are the most nerve-wracking part of law school admissions. It can be hard enough just to approach someone and ask them to write a recommendation for you. What’s even worse, though, is that even well-meaning recommenders can unintentionally submit a statement that, while supportive, does nothing to win over an admissions committee.

Senior Admissions Consultant Heike Spahn offers these pointers on what to aim for in a letter of recommendation.

“The best letters of recommendation – the ones that can make a difference in the admission process – are those that provide detailed examples of the applicant’s writing, critical reasoning, analytical, and research skills – that is, the skills that are necessary for success in law school,” Heike says.

“It’s also advantageous for the applicant if the writer can discuss how the applicant contributed to his or her class – if they show that the applicant was prepared, engaged, and a frequent participator in class discussions. If the writer is a supervisor or employer, they should discuss how the applicant contributed to the organization or company on a daily basis, or to specific projects. The more specific and detailed the letter is, the better.

“Admissions committees are looking for students who are going to be engaged in the classroom and in the life of the law school community – not passive observers who merely do their ‘homework’ and show up to class every day.

“The person who can write the most effective letter of recommendation is the person who knows the applicant the best. The mistake that applicants often make with letters of recommendation is that they think ‘who’ the writer is makes a difference to the admissions committee, but what really matters to the committee is the content of the letter. Be sure you are asking the ‘right’ person to write your letter.”

– Contributed by Heike Spahn. Heike is a Senior Admissions Consultant and former Assistant Dean for the University of Chicago Law School.

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