College Letter of Recommendation
How to get letters of recommendation that give your application a boost.
When you begin your college search, you will find that a major component of almost every college application is your personal letters of recommendation. In these letters, a teacher, coach, counselor, boss or other adult in a position of authority can tell admissions officers from prospective colleges and universities about your academic and personal strengths and why you will excel at their school.
College Letter of Recommendation Basics
Most of the colleges and universities’ admissions officers use the letter of recommendation to complete the full portrait of who the student is. Test scores can tell colleges how a student performs academically, but they do not provide insight into that student’s personality and leadership skills.
Most universities feel that a well-rounded education is about more than just the ability to perform well on a test. Colleges want to know what a student will be able to contribute to campus life, and how likely students are to meet their goals with respect to chosen majors or prospective careers. They would like an idea of how a student will be a strong representative of their college or university. These are some of the questions that can be answered with an effective recommendation letter.
College Recommendation Letter Requirements
Typically, a college application will require you to submit two or three letters of recommendations from adults who know you well. Once you’ve begun your college search and find a college you want to apply to, approach the adults who know you and your work very well to ask them for a recommendation letter.
Although it is great to have someone like a notable judge or senator write you a letter, these run the risk of coming across as form recommendation letters. An effective recommendation letter is personal and should describe your strengths as a student. If you are applying for a specific degree program, like an MBA or MFA, the recommendation letter should also reflect your ability to meet the requirements for such a program.
Getting the Letters of Recommendation
Knowing that you’ll be applying to college and needing recommendation letters means you should begin fostering positive relationships with the adults you encounter in the course of your daily routine. In other words, don’t just show up to class, do your work and leave. Engage your teachers. Spend time with your guidance counselor, telling him or her about your academic and career goals and asking for guidance. Meet other important adults in your life (your boss, minister or rabbi) for a cup of coffee. Get back in touch with the director of the summer camp you worked at.
Building up these relationships will make the recommendation letter writing process easier for the adults you ask. Prove to them that you are indeed worthy of their recommendation, and give them as many positive things to say about you as possible.
Who Should Write Your Recommendation Letter:
- Favorite teachers who know your abilities and teach courses where you excel, especially if you plan to major in similar subjects in college
- Your teachers in subjects related to your college major (e.g. if you’re planning on majoring in engineering, you should try and get letters from your science and math teachers)
- A guidance counselor who has seen how you’ve matured and grown as a student
- A rabbi, pastor or priest who has a history with you and your family
- An employer, such as at a camp or business where you might have worked over the summer or during the school year
- A coach, theater director or any other after-school supervisor who has seen how you apply yourself to programs outside of classroom work
What to Provide Your Recommendation Letter Writer:
- A résumé or list of your academic and personal accomplishments. These should include your GPA, class ranking, awards and any titles you’ve held in extracurricular groups.
- A personal statement. This should clearly define your intent with your future course of study and provide the recommendation letter writer with solid talking points you hope they’ll address in their letter.
- Information on the particular college or university you are applying to as well as the specifics of any degree program you are interested in.
- Address of the college and university and name of an admissions officer, if applicable.
College Recommendation Letters Tips & Tactics
- Find the college application deadlines on the official website, and give your letter writers plenty of advance notice. Also, be sure to ask your chosen recommendation letter writers if they will have the time for filling this request. Some teachers may have a lot of students needing recommendations; get your requests in early so they will be completed in time to meet your application deadlines.
- Students pursuing online degrees from a distance learning program or applying to a community college should find out from the schools if a recommendation letter is required along with the application.
- Make sure you have a good relationship with the people you are asking for a recommendation. You may not get to see the recommendation before it is sent out, so if you’re not sure how the potential recommender really feels about you, you should probably find someone else.
- If you do see your recommendations, make additional copies of your letters for your records and future use.
- Always write a thank-you note.