Your College Recommendation Letters Should Set You Apart
In addition to fine tuning essays and submitting standardized test scores, high school seniors need to prioritize preparing college recommendation letters. Admissions officers are eager to gauge how a student has contributed to their local community, and input from teachers and guidance counselors can help provide this additional context to applications.
In order for your recommendation letters help you stand out from the pack, it is important to choose teachers and mentors with whom you have worked closely. Keep reading for our top tips for what to keep in mind when approaching instructors and guidance counselors for college recommendation letters.
Reflect on the Past Four Years
Don’t reach out to just anyone to write your recommendation letters. Instead, reflect on your high school journey and pinpoint the teachers, coaches, and leaders you have worked closely with. Focus in on classes where you thrived and made an impact on the learning environment as well as leaders involved in any extracurricular activities you participated in. The closer you worked with these sources, the better, as they will be able to provide the most detailed information about your character and work ethic.
Make Thoughtful Selections
Requirements differ by school, but many colleges ask for three letters of recommendation, including one from a high school guidance counselor and potentially two other teachers. Not only should you approach instructors that you have worked closely with, but also those that teach your courses of interest. For example, if you’re a top math student, identify one of your math teachers to write a recommendation on your behalf – preferably someone who knows your work well. For your second recommendation, identify another instructor that knows you well in an adjacent subject area, maybe science, or even from an extracurricular activity. Being thoughtful and strategic will help you collect the best recommendations possible. Use recommendation letters as an opportunity to showcase who you are as a student holistically, including the impact you make in the classroom as well as the work you do after school.
Ask in Advance
Many high school teachers and guidance counselors receive a multitude of requests for college recommendation letters each year, so it is important to give them plenty of notice. It’s best to ask for these letters by the beginning of senior year, if not the end of junior year. This is particularly true for students who are interested in applying in the early rounds, as these applicants will need to have all of their college application materials ready by October.
Provide a Starting Point
Once you ask teachers and mentors for letters of recommendation, help make the process easier for them by providing some context. Consider sharing a resume or list of activities with your recommenders so that they can reference the interests and accomplishments that you have prioritized. Once again, many teachers are writing multiple letters each year, so having something they can use as a starting point can help ensure that your letter is personalized and focused on your interests.
Trust the Process
It is not customary to ask to see the letter of recommendation before it is submitted or to ask about what your writers chose to highlight. Doing this can put teachers and guidance counselors in an awkward position and could potentially hinder their honesty and thoughtfulness. Have confidence in the work you have done throughout high school and the sources you have chosen and avoid asking for a sneak peek of this important document.
After your letters of recommendation are in, it’s important to thank teachers, guidance counselors, and other leaders you reached out to for writing on your behalf. If you are working on compiling your college applications and looking for additional guidance, our team of expert counselors can help point you in the right direction.