How to Get a Great Letter of Recommendation

Based on a College Board Article

Colleges often ask for two or three recommendation letters from people who know you well. These letters should be written by someone who can describe your skills, accomplishments and personality.

Colleges value recommendations because they:

  • Reveal things about you that grades and test scores can’t
  • Provide personal opinions of your character
  • Show who is willing to speak on your behalf

Letters of recommendation work for you when they present you in the best possible light, showcasing your skills and abilities.

When to Ask for Recommendations

Make sure to give your references at least one month before your earliest deadline to complete and send your letters. The earlier you ask, the better. Many teachers like to write recommendations during the summer. If you apply under early decision or early action plans, you’ll definitely need to ask for recommendations by the start of your senior year or before.

Remember that some teachers will be writing whole stacks of letters, which takes time. Your teachers will do a better job on your letter if they don’t have to rush.

Whom to Ask

It’s your job to find two teachers and possibly another person who can write meaningful letters of recommendation for you, such as an employer, a coach or an adviser from an activity outside of school. Follow these steps to start the process:

  • Schools ask for letters of recommendation from an academic teacher — sometimes in a specific subject — and a school counselor. Pick two from your core classes, a STEM discipline and one from English or History.
  • Ask a me, teachers, and your family who they think would make good references.
  • Choose both of your teachers from junior year, or a current teacher who has known you for a while. Colleges want a current perspective on you, so a teacher from several years ago isn’t the best choice.
  • Consider asking a teacher who teaches a core subject and also knows you outside the classroom. For example, a teacher who directed you in a play or advised your debate club can make a great reference.
  • Consider other adults — such as an employer, a coach or an adviser from an activity outside of school — who have a good understanding of you and your strengths.
  • Perhaps most important, pick someone who writes well and will be enthusiastic about writing the letter for you.
  • If you’re unsure about asking someone in particular, politely ask if he or she feels comfortable recommending you. That’s a good way to avoid weak letters.

Your teachers will do a better job on your letter if they don’t have to rush.

How to Get the Best College Recommendations

Some teachers write many recommendation letters each year. Even if they know you well, it’s a good idea to give them supplemental information, which we will prepare, and you will send them this summer. We will make it easy for them to give positive, detailed information about your achievements and your potential by refreshing their memory.

This summer you will need to send them an e-mail:

  • Reminding them about your class participation.
  • Mentioning specific work or projects you’re proud of.
  • Telling them what you learned in class.
  • Mentioning any challenges you overcame.
  • Giving them the information they need to provide specific examples of your work.

I will also have you meet with your guidance counselor over the summer if possible. Later in the summer you will need to:

  • Make an appointment ahead of time.
  • Talk about your accomplishments, hobbies and plans for college and the future.
  • If you need to discuss part of your transcript — low grades during your sophomore year, for example — do so. Explain why you had difficulty and discuss how you’ve changed and improved since then.

We will also send teachers, and another reference, your resume that briefly outlines your activities, both in and outside the classroom, and your goals.

Final Tips for College Recommendations

The following advice is easy to follow and can really pay off:

  • Waive your right to view recommendation letters on your application forms. Admission officers will trust them more if you haven’t seen them.
  • If your school does not use Naviance, give your references addressed and stamped envelopes for each college that requested a recommendation. If they do then it will all be done electronically.
  • Make sure your references know the deadlines for the early colleges that you apply to so they make the deadlines.
  • Follow up with your references a week or so before recommendations are due to make sure your letters have been entered into Naviance or sent.
  • Once you’ve decided which college to attend, write thank-you notes. Tell your references where you’re going and let them know how much you appreciate their support.

 

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