College Tips - Letters of Recommendation


Letters of recommendation are an important aspect of the college application process because they provide the admission readers more information as they make their final decision. Selecting the people who write your letters of recommendation is just as important as the application itself. Let's discuss the best approach and things to consider when making these decisions.


Why do colleges ask for letters of recommendation? Up to this point, the admission committee has reviewed your academic performance, your activities, your personal essays and your test scores. All of those aspects are important, but hearing from other individuals who know you could help them make their final decision. Letters of recommendation are valued in the admission process because they provide information about you that grades and test scores might not show. They also provide personal opinions in regards to your character and grit. Letters of recommendation give the admission readers a glimpse of who you are through the eyes of another individual.


First, check your colleges' requirements. Some ask for specific subject teachers, others are more lenient. This will help guide your decisions as you select your own recommenders. It is important you select people who know you well, in a variety of capacities. Typically, you will want to ask at least one academic teacher who taught you and knows you as a student and individual. If your teacher knows you outside of the classroom, even better! This allows them to discuss you as a student and an individual. You may also consider having an additional recommendation written by someone who knows you in a different capacity - a coach, a theatre director, a supervisor at work, an internship mentor. Your guidance counselor will also usually write a letter of recommendation. As this is pretty standard, you likely will not need to request your counselor write one for you, but it never hurts to confirm and see if he or she needs anything from you as they draft their letter of recommendation.

Things to Consider.

What can they provide?

Sure, it would be great to have a teacher write nothing but praise about how wonderful you are as a student and how strong your grades are. The thing is, if this is the case, the admission team will already see this on your report card. Think about asking a teacher who will describe your process and skills. Maybe you struggled in a course that did not come so easily to you, but you persevered and never gave up, ultimately resulting in a solid grade. This is impressive and the teacher will remark on your dedication and grit, not just the outcome. Junior year teachers are generally the best route to take as they are most familiar with your work from the previous year.

Consider your major.

Your future major is a great help in choosing who to ask for a recommendation. If you are considering something in the realm of medicine or engineering, you will likely want to request a recommendation from a science or math teacher. If journalism is of interest to you, your English teacher makes perfect sense! This also comes in handy when considering additional recommendations. If you are looking into a major in theatre, definitely ask your drama teacher or an outside director for a recommendation. This is all about common sense and selecting individuals that can help you pursue the future you are hoping for. Who can speak to your talents in that field of interest? Give this careful thought and choose wisely.


When should you ask your teachers for these beautiful recommendations? Remember that your entire class is applying to college at the same time as you, so you want to be considerate about your teachers' time if you expect a strong, well thought-out recommendation. Touch base with your teachers in the spring of Junior year to gauge whether or not they are willing to write your recommendation. If they agree to do so, ask them what timeline works best with their schedule. Be sure to let them know if you plan to apply early decision or early action, as those applications have an earlier deadline in October or November. Each recommender should have at least one month to write your letter. The last thing you want to do is catch your teacher off guard at the last minute so that they have no choice but to rush through your recommendation letter. This will not reflect well on you.

Getting the Best.

What else can you do to get the best recommendation? Knowing that teachers have multiple recommendation letters to write each admission season, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to paint you in the best light and highlight your skills, abilities, and accomplishments. Do not be afraid to refresh their memory about certain projects you are proud of, or your class participation. Talk to them about what you learned in their classes and how you took on and overcame challenges in the subject they taught. Share with them your goals for senior year, college and beyond. The more they know about you, the stronger their letter will be.

Final Thoughts.

Stay on top of your timeline. Just because you requested your letters of recommendation be completed by a certain date, does not get you off the hook. Follow up with your teachers a few weeks prior to the due date to make sure the letters have been sent or submitted. Once all college decisions have been made and you've decided where you plan to attend the next fall, don't forget to write the appropriate thank you notes. Let your references know where you've decided to go and let them know how much you appreciate their support throughout the process.

As always, we are here to help! If you have any questions or need helpful forms and guidance when it comes to obtaining the best letters of recommendation, do not hesitate to reach out.