Application Insights: Your Guide to Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are a key part of your Penn Engineering Online application. The process takes some extra time and planning, so we encourage you to start early! Here’s everything you need to know about who to ask, what to say, and how to make sure your letters hit the mark.
Choosing your recommenders
We require two letters of recommendation, but we strongly encourage you to ask for three so you’ll have a backup. Your recommenders should be individuals who have evaluated you in an academic or work setting (not friends or colleagues). A current or former college advisor, instructor, or work supervisor is a good choice. Applications with only one letter or letters from friends/colleagues will not be evaluated for admission!
- Select people who know you well. Job title and position are not as important as the recommender’s ability to write specifically about your abilities.
- Your recommenders don’t need to work in tech. Most of our students come from a non-technical background. What’s more important is that the person can address your fit for the program.
- If you don’t have an academic reference or direct supervisor, all is not lost! Consider reaching out to other people who have evaluated your performance, such as clients (if you own a business), military personnel, or community leaders.
Asking for letters of recommendation
No one likes a last-minute scramble, so reach out to your recommenders well in advance of the submission deadline—ideally at least 3 weeks before the letters are due. Here are some tips for a productive ask:
- Set the stage. Describe the Penn Engineering Online program and explain how it will help you reach your goals.
- Be very clear. When you ask someone to write a letter for you, it helps to explain to them why you’ve chosen that individual. Also, be very clear about everything the request entails, including the submission deadline (see below).
- Emphasize your strengths. Explain how your skills and attributes will contribute to your success in the program so that your recommender can incorporate that information in your letter.
What your recommenders need to know
Make sure your recommenders understand the guidelines for letters of recommendation:
- must be written in English
- on official letterhead of the writer’s organization or institution whenever possible
- include the writer’s signature, name and organization
- range from 500 to 1,500 words
- submitted through the online application system
Letters should reference the Penn Engineering Online program you are applying to and cannot be reused from a different program. If you applied to Penn Engineering Online in the past, you may reuse the recommendations you submitted at that time—but the recommenders need to resubmit the letters.
How the process works
As part of the online application, you’ll provide contact information for your references. The system will then send each reference a unique link to the application portal, where they will answer a few questions and upload their letter.
If the questions in the short survey aren’t relevant to your recommenders, they can skip those questions or reframe them. For example, your recommender can respond to “How many students do you supervise?” by writing about their role in supervising employees.
All letters of recommendation are due by the application deadline. Late submissions will not be considered and will disqualify you from the admissions cycle. So make sure your recommenders are aware of the application deadline!