Many colleges and universities ask their applicants to submit a letter of recommendation to be considered for admission. However, many students believe this piece of the application process is not very important. While it is true your application, grades, test scores, and essay play a huge roll, the recommendation will reiterate what you have already sent, and sometimes put you over the top when admissions committees are making their decisions.
Here are some tips as you start thinking about recommendations:
Whom to ask?
- Read your college application requirements carefully and ensure you are choosing someone who meets the requirement. Some colleges will accept a recommendation from any teacher, while other colleges or programs may ask for a recommendation from a teacher who teaches a specific subject.
- Your recommendation writers should know you well. The best recommendations are the ones who can speak personally about a student and can share more than just general information. Sometimes students find the best recommendations writers are the teachers they had during their junior year because they have spent at least an academic year with the student and their memory is fresh.
When to ask?
- Before leaving for summer vacation, juniors should consider meeting with the person they would like to write the recommendation. While they may not submit the recommendation right then, many teachers like to write recommendation letters over the summer when they have a little extra time.
- Always try to give your recommendation writer at least one month to write your recommendation letter. Just like you, recommendation writers are busy and have other things they are also doing during the year. Recommendation writers typically do a better job writing the recommendation when they are not rushed.
- Don’t let the automatic recommendation request be the first time your recommendation writer learns of your request. Many applications ask applicants to provide email addresses for the individuals they want to submit their recommendations. The application will then send a generic email to the person asking them to submit the recommendation. Be personal and ask the individual if they would consider writing your recommendation before providing their email address. Follow-up with the individual after you provided the email address to let them know they should have received the official recommendation request by email. This will ensure you know they received the request.
- Make an appointment to discuss the recommendation. This meeting is a great time to share more about your college plans. This can lead to a great discussion that will allow your recommendation writer to get to know you better so that they can in turn write a great recommendation for you. Prior to the meeting, you may also want to prepare a brag sheet that lists all of your accomplishments and activities. This can come in handy for the writer as they are sharing information about you in the recommendation letter.
- Waive FERPA rights on the college application. Recommendation writers may not feel comfortable being candid and honest in their recommendation if you do not waive your rights. At some high schools, some teachers and counselors will not submit a recommendation if students do not waive this right. In addition, admissions committees may not trust a recommendation if they know the applicant has seen the letter.
- Make sure the recommendation writer knows the deadline and follow-up if necessary. As soon as you know the deadline, let the recommendation writer know the deadline. In addition, follow-up with the recommendation writer at least one week prior to the deadline, if necessary. Sometimes your recommendation writer will let you know they sent the letter. However, if they don’t let you know, many of the application portals will allow you to see the status of your application and will show if your recommendation has been received.
- Don’t forget to say thank you. Recommendation writers don’t have to write a letter for you. Therefore, be appreciative of the extra time they have spent to help you. It is also nice to keep them updated throughout the college admissions process. For example, when you receive an acceptance letter from a college their recommendation was sent, share the joy with them.