by ASR Staff

As the deadlines are approaching, you need to start thinking about reaching out to your recommenders, to make sure that they are slowly getting used to the idea that they have to write a recommendation letter for you. As you do this, keep in mind that none of your recommenders is in any way obligated to take time out of their busy professional schedule and their family time to write a reference letter for you. It is a good starting point that will allow you to appreciate what they are doing. Architecture schools are very competitive these days, and one cannot hope to gain admission to any of them without a good set of reference letters. So, take a big breath, and prepare for the long process of basically holding your recommenders’ hands from step one to the moment when they press submit and their references are sent.

When you do check with them, there is a possibility that some of your recommenders will ask you to take a look a the letters that they have written for you so far. Either that, or they  will simply want to make sure that they are covering the correct points that need to be addressed. This is an excellent chance for you to help them by improving their letter, making it more powerful and more aligned with your overall admissions strategy.

Many recommenders – and mainly the ones who do not understand the process of applying to architecture school – believe that they can simply write a positive letter stating various positive characteristics, and that’s it. However, that would not be enough. It will also not be enough to count on the value of the recommender’s name or professional status. A generic letter is a generic letter. Everyone has seen one, and they all look the same, short and dry, and most importantly not addressing what it is that makes you special as a candidate.

If you want your recommender wants to really help you stand out from the rest of the over-qualified candidates, you will need to paint for him or her a clear picture of who you are, where you are now in life, where you are planning to go, how what you have already done prior to entering architecture school has benefited you and what it has taught you that you could bring to the table when an architecture student. Finally, you need to explain to the recommenders why it is that you really want to go to architecture school … or better, how is architecture school going to help you get where you want to go in life. Therefore, the best way to approach your recommenders is by answering these questions and presenting your answers to them as cogently as possible.

Since the beginning, our consultants at ASR have begun any architecture school portfolio and admissions prep process in a very specific way: Step 1: Build the ideal strategy for getting into architecture school. Step 2: Construct the first draft of your essay, not so much as a literary piece, but as a system of information and ideas upon which the narrative (hopefully aesthetically developed) text of the final version of your architecture school statement of purpose will be based. This essay at that point in the development of the application, is not an actual statement of purpose meant to be submitted to architecture school admissions committees, but simply a strategic tool, a script if you will, encapsulating the overall thematic information and details of your application, and expressing a series of ideas that a) represent your strategy without directly revealing it to the members of the architecture school admissions committee, and b) discuss a series of influences and activities that describe who you are.

The essay at this point, in its raw and relatively incomplete form, is the best tool in your hands for properly guiding your recommenders. At the time when they will be at a loss, when their screen will seem blank and empty and they will not know where to start from, your essay will offer them a framework of thinking, as well as a set of loosely defined guidelines, which will allow them to compose a very good letter much faster, but also one that is closer to your overall strategy and message that you want to communicate.

By subtly offering to guide your recommenders, you make their lives easier while optimizing your architecture school application. Remember to always begin with the essay. The essay is the Script, the generator of ideas, the starting point for all your ideas.