Strong Relationships Produce Strong Recommendation Letters

Recommendations can make or break an application. Having read and written hundreds of them, I cannot stress the importance of cultivating a relationship with your recommender. Why? Because the first thing I look for in a letter of recommendation is evidence that the recommender knows the person well enough to provide an accurate and honest assessment. If I don’t see evidence of this in the letter, the strength of the recommendation plummets.
Make sure your recommenders know you well enough to write about you in a
personal- and therefore compelling and convincing- manner. Meet with them, find ways to work with them, and by all means do well in their classes. Also, when you approach a professor, employer, teacher or coach for a letter, ask them if they think they can write a strong recommendation for you. If they waiver on this, or are unsure, you are probably better off looking elsewhere because a lukewarm or even negative recommendation (yes, I have read them) is the kiss of death for an application. Once you have lined up people to write on your behalf, send them your resume, application letter and a little  background about you so that they can draw on these materials to strengthen their letter.
Last but not least, I cannot understate the importance of thanking  recommenders for taking the time to write on your behalf. Many former students send me thank you notes via e-mail and snail mail to catch me up on their lives. Their gratitude and willingness to take the time to write keeps me writing strong recommendation letters for them. And the better I know them, the better my letters of recommendation.