Question: I’m applying for a summer research job for students at a college near my home. I’m a sophomore bio major and I worked at a lab in my own college during the fall and the job sounds pretty interesting but I’m nervous cause I haven’t had to apply to anything like this before. The application says to give 4 letters of recommendation plus an essay. I don’t know who to get to write letters. I have a coach I can ask. Would it be bad to ask my high school guidance counselor? He knew me pretty well, but I haven’t seen him in more than two years. And where should I get the fourth letter? I don’t know too many people back home anymore. ~ Abby T., Tempe, AZ
Answer: A summer research opportunity can be a very beneficial experience, especially if it is doing work that you might want to do long-term. Typically, colleges ask for letters of recommendation from people who have observed your work, and even better, people who have supervised your work. Ideally, these are people who have seen your research ability and can speak knowledgeably about your capacity to conduct research. Most colleges also typically prefer to see letters written by faculty. You mentioned working at a lab at your college. Would the supervisor at your college’s lab be willing to write you a strong letter of recommendation? Perhaps you could also ask a biology professor who is familiar with your work? Do you have any other professors who have observed your research or academic work? Even a letter written by a faculty member from a different department who can write a strong letter on your behalf can be powerful. If you can get three of the four letters written by faculty at your own college, that would be good. A current work supervisor of a campus job would also be a good person to ask to write a letter.