Letter(s) of Recommendation

There are various types of required Letters of Recommendation.  Some colleges are requesting recommendations online, others want letters, and still others want a specific form filled out.  It is YOUR responsibility to provide your letter writers with everything they will need – the different types of forms, deadlines, online link, and instructions.

Counselor Recommendations

It is imperative that students thoughtfully update and complete the Student Data Form and turn it in to his/her counselor at the beginning of senior year.  Your counselor will write a comprehensive letter of recommendation for you.  The descriptive letter is sent with your transcript to all schools to which you apply.  This recommendation is developed through personal contact with you, information gathered from your Student Data Form, your school record, and teacher input.

Teacher Recommendations

The teacher(s) is/are responsible for completing the letter of recommendation forms and submitting them to the colleges. 

Whom to Ask:  Colleges prefer to hear about your most recent academic performance, so when deciding whom to ask to write a letter, be sure you ask, in person, an academic teacher (i.e. math, science, history, etc.) from your junior year who knows you well.   Teachers are extremely busy during the school year and asking them to write a letter of recommendation is something they are not obligated to do, but are willing to do given the proper materials and time.  Ask in a way that allows a teacher to decline comfortably if he/she does not have time to do an adequate job.  Don’t assume that the teacher will be comfortable doing a recommendation for you.   For example: “Do you feel you know me well enough, and do you have enough time to write a supportive letter of recommendation for me to . . .” If they hesitate, find someone else to write your letter.

Subject Matter:  The letter should describe your particular academic skills and attitude about learning.  Smart applicants will make sure their recommendations highlight their key strengths, mitigate any weaknesses they need to address, and substantiate their stories as necessary.  Be sure to provide them with your resume and a few points that you want your recommenders to discuss.  You want to give them some material to work with so their letter can be detailed and list specific accomplishments. 

Timeline: Be respectful of their time; we recommend that you give out your request for recommendations on or before September 15.  Make sure that you give them a minimum of two weeks to complete your recommendation.  Do not wait until the deadline is looming to ask them.  

Documents:  Appearing organized is just one more positive trait that your letter writers will take notice of, so assemble all the necessary documents neatly in a large envelope.  Provide them with any recommendation form provided by the college (See Step Eight for a sample Teacher Recommendation Form) and envelopes already addressed, stamped, and with tracking confirmation for each Letter of Recommendation.  On the outside of the envelope, or on a cover letter, thank them for their assistance and list all the colleges with their deadlines, including whether the recommendation is an online form or a paper form.  If online, provide them with the website and any other necessary information.  List them in order of due date, so the teacher can easily see when they need to be completed and won’t risk missing a date. 

Gratitude:  Make sure to extend your appreciation to the teacher writing your letter of recommendation.  After the letter is sent and deadline passed, buy the teacher a small present, such as a Starbucks gift card, or write them a personalized thank you note that shows your appreciation. 

Other Letters of Recommendations

It may be appropriate for you to include letters of recommendation from an employer, coach or other advisor. We suggest that these letters be on appropriate letterhead if possible, and addressed “To Whom It May Concern.”  These letters should follow the same procedures as the Teacher Recommendations.

Note:  Sending too many letters of recommendations can work against you.  Check with each school as to the number of recommendations they require and follow the rule exactly.  As a rule of thumb, do not have people send letters unless they know you well enough to provide direct observations of your performance in an area not already documented.

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