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Letters of Recommendation



An important part of your application is your recommendations. You will need to have considered this aspect of your application long before you apply to any college. Recommendations, especially good ones (we’ll say more on this soon), are of high importance to low-income students.

The best letters of recommendation can differentiate you from others among a large pool of applicants. Teacher recommendations can offer solid examples of your abilities in a subject area, while counselor recommendations can provide a sense of how you stand out within your class at school. 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

Recommenders need to write about a student’s character, mention experiences that they have with them in the classroom, state their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and make a case for the student given the larger picture of their peers’ strengths and the rigor of the high school life and academics. These types of recommendations set you apart from other students, and give colleges  insight into your life and your personality.

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Unfortunately, many recommenders do not write great recommendations. They may speak favorably of a student, but the content of the recommendation is often very general and does not speak to you as an individual. These teachers may not know their students very well, and may not have other information they can use to write a letter.

Your first priority is to perform well in your classes, and take academic risks that show the depth of your intellectual curiosity. Beyond this, take the time to get to know your teachers and befriend them. This process should begin long before the fall of your senior year. Try the following techniques to connect with them:

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 one.
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 from which to draw.

Also spend some time getting to know your counselor. While some schools have very few counselors for many students, even a brief meeting can go a long way.

WHOM TO ASK FOR A RECOMMENDATION

College admissions officers will use your letters of recommendation to get a better sense of who you are. The strongest recommenders are educators who know you both in the classroom and beyond, and can provide vivid examples of your academic strengths and other passions.

Typically, you will need to obtain three recommendations:

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•    Two from teachers who have taught you in a core academic subject (e.g., math, science, history/social studies, English, foreign language).
•    One from a counselor who will be able to place your achievements in the context of the students at your school and community.

The following are some guidelines for selecting the best recommenders:

•    Choose people who have known you well, preferably for at least one year, in a core academic subject.
•    If possible, ask teachers who have taught you during your junior year.
•    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.
•    Ask individuals who have strong writing skills.
•    Keep in mind that sometimes the most popular teachers won’t have as much time to dedicate to your specific recommendation.

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.

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. (Note: You cannot submit additional recommendations with your QuestBridge National College Match application, but if you become a finalist, you may be able to include the letter with the additional materials you submit directly to the colleges you ranked.)

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 two to three weeks before the deadline, but one month prior or more is preferable. 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 of recommender with a folder that contains:


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•    Recommendation forms and instructions
•    A list of colleges to which you are applying
•    An activities resume
•    A draft of your college application personal essay
•    Your transcript
•    Personal information such as your family situation (optional)
•    Pre-addressed stamped envelopes (if applicable)

Lastly, show gratitude. Along with the folder of information, provide your recommenders with a "thank you in advance" note. You should also thank your recommenders afterwards and let them know which colleges you were 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. Put together a packet for your teacher(s). Include your transcript, your resume, the list of colleges your applying to, the latest draft of your personal statement, any recommendation forms needed, self-addressed stamped envelopes, and a list of recommedation deadlines for your colleges.

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2. Ask your teacher if they feel they can write a good recommendation. Of course, you should pick someone who knows you well. It’s surprising, though, how many recommendations admissions offices receive from teachers who clearly don’t want to be writing a recommendation for the student. Don’t have this happen to you. By asking your teacher if they feel like they can write a good recommendation, you can confirm that they want to write for you. You also get them to make an oral commitment to do a good job.

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 college admissions officers will typically place more weight on a recommendation if you have waived your right of access, because this indicates that 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.

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