What will your letters of recommendation say about you? Will they make you stand out from other applicants? Here’s how you can ensure that you receive recommendations that help your college application to shine!
First, who are the best people to ask to write a recommendation?
Standard letters of recommendation: Guidance counselors and teachers from your junior or senior years. If you are a junior, this is a good time to ask your teachers for letters. Supplemental letters of recommendation: Coaches, employers, religious leaders, and other respected adults who know you well.
Don’t overdo it! Some colleges will only accept one letter. Don’t send 10! It makes you look bad and indicates that you don’t follow directions.
Deciding whom to ask!
I suggest to my students that they as two teachers who have taught them in either Junior or Senior year, one from Math or Science and one from English or Humanities. This covers your bases for most colleges. If the teacher is hesitant to agree, don’t push it. You are probably better off asking someone else.
How much time should you give the person to write the recommendation letter?
Don’t make last minute requests and expect a great letter – or any letter at all. Give people at least three weeks to produce a good letter. If the teacher has agreed, then make an appointment early in Senior year to give the teacher more information about you including some anecdotes about the class that they may choose to include in the letter. This makes the letter much more personal.
What should the person writing the letter say to make you stand out?
First, don’t expect those writing the letters to know everything about you. Put together a resume that includes:
- A personal statement that summarizes the skills or characteristics that you want to emphasize.
- Personal information – name, address phone, email
- Education – including high school, advanced courses, honor rolls and any college courses you’ve taken.
- Skills and accomplishments – Consider the skills you want to focus on
and give examples. Athletics, musical talents, leadership through scouting, sports, school or religious activities, and research in which you participated are all great examples.
- Volunteer activities – school or community service as well as religious groups or personal outreach activities.
How many letters of recommendation do I need?
Most colleges require at least one standard letter of recommendation, but additional letters can help to create a more well-rounded picture of you.
FYI – be aware that counselors do not have to alert you as to whether or not they will send a recommendation letter on your behalf. Follow up with your counselor to find out whether the letter has been sent. If not, it’s doubly important that you get a letter from a teacher or other adult as per above!