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Letter of Recommendation Tips for Students:
An important part of your application is your recommendations. Teacher recommendations can offer solid examples of your abilities in a subject area, while counselor recommendations can provide a picture of who you are as a student and an individual. The earlier you build relationships with your recommenders, the better, as they can be excellent advocates for you on your road to college.
FIRST STEP: GET TO KNOW YOUR TEACHERS
Prior to your senior year, try the following techniques to connect with your teachers, so that they can get to know you better:
1. Ask your teacher additional questions about the material you are working on after class or during tutorial sessions.
2. Write teachers thank you cards at the end of semesters or academic years.
3. If you feel like your teacher is also a great personal mentor, ask them for advice on aspects of your life. Start with safe topics, like college and academic questions. Later, you can ask them which college they attended and why they chose that college.
4. Speak candidly with your counselor and/or teachers about any challenges you’ve experienced outside the classroom. They can provide this information in their recommendations and give admissions officers more context as to your specific circumstances.
It may take you a bit to begin to see teachers as people that can offer you more than just information on their subjects of expertise. Then, later, when you ask for a recommendation, you know that they will have a lot of content to draw from.
Also spend some time getting to know your counselor. Since counselors don’t see you everyday, it’s hard for them to remember who you are. Schedule a short check-in on a regular basis to remind your counselor who you’re.
Typically, you will need to obtain 3 recommendations:
• Two from teachers who have taught you in a core academic subject (e.g., math, science, history/social studies, English, foreign language) from your junior or sophomore year. You may consider asking a senior teacher who has taught you prior to senior year.
• One from a counselor who will be able to paint a picture of who you’re as an individual and a student.
The following are some guidelines for selecting the best recommenders:
• Select teachers in whose classes you have done well academically, or where you’ve improved dramatically.
• Choose recommenders you trust to complete the letters on time.
• Keep in mind that sometimes the most popular teachers won’t have as much time to dedicate to your specific recommendation, especially if you ask them late.
A note on additional recommendations: You may also want to ask other professionals such as an employer, research advisor, coach, music teacher, or volunteer organizer, to provide an additional letter of recommendation. These letters can support and strengthen your case if you bring a particular talent or skill, like exceptional abilities in science research or community organizing. These letters, however, can’t replace the academic teachers’ letters.
If you are interested in submitting additional letters, make sure you check whether the colleges you are applying to accept them, as not all do.
WHEN TO ASK FOR A RECOMMENDATION
Remember that your teachers and counselors will be writing recommendations for other students as well. So, be sure to provide them with ample time to complete your recommendation.
In general, you should ask recommenders at least one month prior to the first deadline. When making your request, first ask if they feel comfortable writing you a strong recommendation. If the answer is no, you will have enough time to ask someone else.
After you ask for a recommendation, check back with them to make sure everything’s going well, to see if they have any questions you can answer, and to give them friendly reminders about deadlines. Teachers and counselors are very busy at this time of year.
WHAT INFORMATION TO PROVIDE TO YOUR RECOMMENDER
Providing your recommenders with ample information allows them to paint a complete and accurate picture of you. You should provide each recommender an Appraisal Packet that contains:
• A list of colleges to which you are applying & the deadline for each college
• An activities resume
• A draft of your college application personal essay
• Your transcript
• A detail Teacher or Counselor Appraisal Form
Lastly, show gratitude. Along with the Appraisal Packet, provide your recommenders with a “thank you in advance” note. You should also thank your recommenders afterwards and let them know which colleges you have been admitted to. They will be glad to know that they were able to help you.
SPECIFIC TIPS FOR RECOMMENDATIONS
Here are the steps you should to take when you ask for a recommendation.
1. Ask your teacher if they are willing to write a recommendation for you. If they say “yes”, ask them if they have a list of questions for you to answer, so you can provide them more details about you. If they say “no”, ask them if they would like you to complete an Appraisal Packet.
2. Put together an Appraisal Packet for your teacher(s). Include your transcript, your resume, the list of colleges your applying to, the latest draft of your personal statement, and a list of recommendation deadlines for your colleges. Put all items in an 8.5 by 11.5 size envelope with the deadline list posted on the front.
3. Give your teacher plenty of time. You want to give a teacher at least four weeks to write a recommendation for you. The more time you can give your teacher the better. They are busy, too!
4. After you ask for a recommendation, check back regularly with your teacher. In all likelihood your teacher will be writing more than one recommendation. Check back with them to make sure everything’s going well, to see if they have any questions you can answer, and to give them friendly reminders about deadlines. And, after the recomendations go out, as a courtesy, keep your teacher updated about how your college application process turns out.
A NOTE ON CONFIDENTIALITY
On most recommendation forms, you will be able to indicate whether you want to waive your right to view the recommendation. Under federal law, college students have the right to view recommendations submitted on their behalf to the college at which they enroll.
We generally suggest that students waive this right. This is because if you have waived your right of access, the recommendation is more likely to be completely candid. However, you will not be penalized for declining to waive your rights. Ultimately, it is your decision.
Please note that if you choose not to waive your right, you won’t be able to view your recommendations until after you have enrolled in and started college.