Applying to college is one of the most important times in a teen’s life. You have to decide what you want to study, where you want to pursue your education, there’s so much to consider! But one thing very few people talk about enough is the steps to get a high-quality college recommendation letter.
Recommendation letters are the keystone of any college application. They are the piece that pulls the entire application together and shines a light on the applicant’s skills, academic history, and personality traits. But, what exactly is a college recommendation letter? What should you be doing to prepare to get your letters?
What is a Recommendation Letter?
A recommendation letter is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a letter addressed to the admissions office of the college or university you are applying to. It details your academic, personal, and social skills in a way that will highlight what makes you special. Most universities are not exclusively interested in your grades; they want to know who you are as a person and if you’ll be a good fit for their school.
Someone from your high school usually writes recommendation letters. Letter writers can be your principal, a favorite teacher, or guidance counselor. The letter will provide relevant information and give their own authentic opinion of why you would be a good student for the university you are applying for. This letter of recommendation can help push you over the edge from candidate to acceptance.
Requesting a Recommendation Letter for College
Ideally, the sooner you begin assembling your application materials, the better off you will be. Most high schoolers are advised to prepare their college applications in their junior year. It may seem early, but it is crucial that you begin gathering your materials ahead of time so you can focus on bringing it all together in your senior year.
Another reason to start early is to give whoever is writing this letter plenty of time to write the letter. Remember, they are likely writing recommendation letters for other students, and you don’t want to inundate them with too much work on short notice. Ideally, you should begin asking at least two teachers, three if possible, for a recommendation letter around the spring of your junior year. Colleges vary regarding the number of recommenders they ask for; most want two or fewer, but some require more or give you the option to add more. The best practice is to be ready with an extra letter or two if possible.
Begin by speaking to your high school guidance counselor. Each school has its process and protocol to follow for requesting letters of recommendation, so asking the counselor about the process is a good starting point. The first thing to discuss is the counselor’s potential need to write a recommendation letter and/or school report. Next, determine what the process for asking teachers is. Once you have a firm understanding of the process at your school, you can begin setting out to find teachers who agree to write them for you.
One rule of thumb, however, is that many schools will require two separate recommendation letters. Generally, they are written by your guidance counselor as well as one or more of your core-subject teachers. You should always check with the universities you are applying to determine if they require more than one letter, and who it should be from.
Guidelines for Recommendation Letters.
Once you understand the rules of both your school and the universities you are applying to, you can start asking for your recommendation letter[s]. Carefully select – teachers with whom you have a close connection and who are most likely to write good things about you.
Again, most teachers write quite a few recommendation letters every year. Be sure to set up a time to speak with your teachers and politely ask them if they would be comfortable writing a recommendation letter for you.
This is important because it removes the pressure from the situation and will help you get a glowing letter that reflects who you are as a student and person. We recommend asking in February/March of junior year. In the worst case, give at least four weeks’ notice before you will ultimately need the letter for your applications.
You should provide everything they will need to write a great recommendation letter, including:
- Your high school resume, personal statement, and transcripts.
- Your Common App Activities Activity List- a list of your extracurricular activities, hobbies, and accomplishments outside of school.
- Your college application deadlines.
- Your goals and what you plan to do after college.
- Talk to them about your class attendance and participation in projects.
- Remind them of projects, assignments, or class-specific work that you are proud of.
- Talk to them about the things you have learned in class, and what inspired you about it.
- Mention challenges in and out of class that you may have had to overcome and how you overcame them.
- Specific examples of your work.
All of these things can help teachers write a recommendation letter that will truly help you with your university acceptance. It’s essential to set yourself, your teacher, and the letter itself up for success from the very beginning.
In addition to teacher recommenders, some schools invite you to send letters from other people. Consider asking a coach, employer, service organization leader, music teacher, or other mentors you’ve engaged with to write a letter, too. It may come in handy and it will often be considered an honor to be asked.
Submitting the Letter.
Once the letter is written, one final step is to write a personalized note to your recommenders, thanking them for their kind words and time. They will upload your recommendation letter directly to your university application, submit the letter, and the process is finally done!
If you or your child is in the process of applying for college, having strong recommendation letters is crucial to their success. For more information about requesting recommendation letters, read these blog posts:
And remember, if you need any advice or assistance on applying to college, we are here to help. HelloCollege offers expert consulting in acquiring a high-quality recommendation letter for your university application or building college lists for students just like you. Reach out today to learn how we can help make your enrollment and application process easier!