What: A recommendation discloses things about student character beyond a student’s academic performance. It is not a recitation of information contained elsewhere in the application or school transcript.
A post on usnews.com points out that at large schools, where interviewing is nearly impossible, “letters of recommendation are one of the few ways to learn about prospective students beyond their grades and test scores.” In the post, Bobbie Jean S. Huerth, assistant director of application evaluation and training at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, states that from a recommendation, “We get much more of a real feeling for the student and the type of person they are and the type of student they are. That helps us picture who they might be on our campus." Recommendations can come from guidance counselors, teachers, athletic coaches, employers/supervisors at work, community service directors, research mentors, summer pre-college professors, and anybody else who knows the student well enough to speak highly. (See below for mandatory sources.). Students should not overdo this: The number of people who know the student well enough to write a strong recommendation is truly limited, so sending more than three or four is likely to make for repetitive reading – and may prove counterproductive.
When: NOW! While recommendations won’t be due for months, juniors who want the best possible recommendations should be requesting them now, because that will give recommenders plenty of time over the summer during which to craft them. Asking now shows courtesy to the recommenders and ensures that your request doesn’t come at a time when they’re too busy; teachers and counselors will surely be busy when fall semester starts. And other students who have not planned ahead like you have will be making last-minute requests for recommendations. Assuming that a student is going to ask current teachers, which we highly suggest, asking now means that the student is fresh in the teachers’ minds, decreasing the likelihood that they’ll struggle to recall good things to say.
Why: Why submit recommendations? Because virtually all colleges require them from 1-2 teachers and your counselor. And LORs make a difference in admission decisions: The National Association of College Admission Counseling’s 2018 State of College Admissions Report discloses that over half of responding college admission officers reported that both counselor and teacher recommendations were of considerable or moderate influence in admission decisions – two factors among only seven that garnered over 50% scores for considerable or moderate influence.
How: Choose wisely whom to ask to write a recommendation. Pick teachers of courses in which you excelled or were actively engaged and grew as a student – even if you didn’t get an A. To help you stand out, it's vital that each recommender write something meaningful – something that reveals positive qualities of not only your academic abilities, but also of your character. So how do students increase that likelihood?
We suggest that students do these things, in this order:
- Request an appointment to speak with your intended recommender in person – not by phone, text, or email – at a time convenient for the recommender.
- Open the face-to-face meeting by thanking the intended recommender for agreeing to meet.
- Briefly explain that getting into college is important to you so that you can pursue your dreams, your goals, your ambitions – and tell him or her what they are.
- Tell the intended recommender why you’ve chosen to speak with him/her, specifically, and, assuming that you’re speaking with a teacher, here’s a good way to do that: “Of all my classes, I’ve enjoyed yours the most. I’ve learned a lot from you, and I think that you’re a great teacher who’s challenged and brought out the best in me.”
- Then, tell the intended recommender, “I’d be honored if you’d agree to write a strong recommendation letter for me to help me get into college, and while it’s not needed until applications are due next fall, I wanted to give you plenty of time to do it.”
- Provide each recommender with a résumé of your activities and achievements, because that will better allow him or her to present you as a whole person.
- To help teachers write more anecdotal recommendations, email each one a bulleted list highlighting your special memories from their class (e.g., the impact of particular assignments on your thinking, your impact on your classmates).
- Share with each recommender a list of colleges to which you’re planning to apply and their deadline dates.
- Once you enter a recommender’s contact information in an application (Common App, Coalition App, college’s own application, etc.), an automatic request for a letter of recommendation will be generated and emailed by the application server. Your recommenders will likely submit their recommendations through the online portals of the various applications you’re using. However, if a letter must be sent directly to a college, provide each recommender with a stamped, pre-addressed envelope for that college as well as any forms that must accompany the recommendation.
- Most applications have a portal through which you can check the status of each letter of recommendation, and the opportunity to send a follow-up request if a letter hasn’t yet been sent.
You’re on the path toward your college education. Now’s the time to positively assert yourself as you prepare to apply to colleges. Demonstrate that you have the personality and desire to make the process work smoothly for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.