Keep Control of Your Message

As applicants progress with their work this time of year, I often find myself giving this piece of advice: Keep control of your message.

What's that mean?

You have 100% control over some parts of your application, like your personal statement and your resume. You decide what goes in, what stays out (just as important), and how you want to present yourself there. Your LSAT score may or may not be the one you want, but it, too, is in your hands.

I suspect that one reason applicants feel so much anxiety over their recommendations is their lack of control over that piece of things. Does that sound right to you?

Recommendations are indeed tricky. You put a lot of trust in your recommenders -- to give proper thought to their evaluation of you, to respect the timeline and deadlines you agree on, not to go missing in action and leave you hanging. But the uncertainty is difficult, and I see applicants stress out more about that piece of the application process than many others.

Recommenders often go beyond the call of duty and want to know how they can be most helpful to you. For example, you might have a conversation about this thing or that thing that would be good to include in the letter. Or perhaps you think a recommender could do a better job explaining your difficulties in that class/semester/school than you can. Maybe you're hoping your pre-law advisor will write something mitigating or exculpatory about some kind of bumpiness in your personal life or in your academic past. Or maybe it's all good news, and you're expecting someone to mention the significance of that award you won for your thesis.

And indeed, the right recommenders can be wonderful allies in that way. But can you trust them 100% to tell your story the way you would want it told? Can you be sure they'll take the time or remember to include that discussion? Can you be sure they'll even submit the letter at all? (The number of recommenders who enthusiastically agree to write letters in May but then fall off the face of the earth in September no longer surprises me. It happens.)

If there's some part of your overall story that is important for admissions officers to know, don't rely on your recommenders -- or anyone else -- to communicate it. It's fine if they do, but don't delegate that task entirely to them. If it's that important, it should also come from you. Keep control over your message by staying ultimately responsible for it.

Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, downloadable as an e-book. Join the conversation here in the blog comments and on Twitter and Facebook. Or email us a new question for the blog.