Letters of Recommendation Explained

Carlie Tenenbaum
Carlie Tenenbaum

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You got good grades. Took your standardized tests. Wrote and rewrote, deleted and rewrote essays. You’ve listed extracurriculars and community service. You’ve done everything to make yourself an attractive college applicant. But there’s one more piece: letters of recommendation.

Letters of recommendation can feel intimidating. They don’t need to be! They’re a chance for teachers, coaches and mentors to brag about you. Think of the way your parents do when they run into old college friends. Not so bad, right? Here are some steps to securing shining letters.

1. Choose carefully!

Most schools ask for 2-3 letters. Pick people in your life who have seen different sides of you. For example, if you pick a coach who will highlight your leadership abilities, pick a teacher who will highlight your work ethic and a club advisor who will highlight your creativity and organization. This will help the college build a more well rounded image of you.

Additionally, pick people you have formed a genuine bond with. While many teachers will be willing to write your letters, try to find those who are excited to do so! Maybe it’s the teacher of a class you got an A in by going in at lunch or the coach of a team you captained by training extra on weekends. Find people with whom you have a personal connection; their ability to talk about you with anecdotes (not just generic adjectives) will be memorable to admissions officers!

2. Ask early!

Leaders are busy people and you don’t want to make them feel rushed or stressed. Try to give them a month between when you ask them and the letter’s due date so they have plenty of time to write a letter you’ll both be proud of.

3. Provide all the materials!

Prepare a folder for each of your recommenders. The folder should include: your resume; the list of schools you’re applying to for which you need this recommendation (with each school’s due date); any guidelines the school has provided for letters (ie. length, official letterhead etc.); a stamped, addressed envelope for each listed school or specific instructions to the online submission process; and a thank you note!

4. Thank you’s!

This recommendation is a crucial piece of your application–write your recommenders a nice thank you note for helping you out. Handwritten is best!

5. Follow up!

These people are invested in you! Keep them posted on where you end up choosing to go to college and be sure to thank them again for helping you reach that dream. They believe in you–that’s why they wrote your letter! They’ll want to hear about your successes.

Don’t take it personally if someone is too busy to write your letter. Just remember to ask early so that someone else has enough time to do it!

Questions? Let us know!