In the most recent NACAC State of College Admissions report, more than 50% of the colleges responded that the teacher and counselor recommendations were of moderate or considerable importance in their admissions decisions. In basic terms, this means the recommendation letters are nothing to shrug off. As with the essays, this is another way for students set themselves apart from the ‘competition’ and give the reader more details about who they are.
Each college has different specifications for how many recommendation letters they require, recommend or will accept. Typically they require one from a counselor and at least one from a teacher. Students need to be sure to fulfill these requirements and ask the proper people. If a letter from a teacher is required, it should be a teacher from their school, preferably from a core subject. Students should only submit supplemental letters from recommenders connected to an extracurricular activity or something outside of school after they have fulfilled the teacher and counselor recommendation requirements and even then, only if the college accepts ‘others’.
It is important for students to ask someone who knows them well and with whom they have had a good relationship. The last thing the admissions office wants to read is another generic letter. If students feel that the teacher or counselor may need more information about them in order to write a detailed letter, they can give the recommender a ‘brag sheet’ or resume with the details of their accomplishments and academic history. This can be a great help for infusing letters with personal details about the student. Note that one detail the recommendation letter should not contain is the names of the other schools to which the student is applying.
A common mistake made during this process is students not giving their recommenders enough time to write a quality letter. Keep in mind that they are most likely writing letters for many other students and will need more than just a few days. I suggest requesting the letters in August to allow plenty of time to meet any of the application deadlines. Students can check the status of the recommendation letters by logging in to whichever application platform they are using, but they will not be able to read them.
Whether it is via Common App, Coalition App, Naviance or another platform the student uses to request recommendations, they should be sure to formally ask their teachers and counselors in person before sending the request online. Not only is this the polite thing to do, it also gives the recommender a chance to ask the student any questions they may have before writing their letter. They will more than likely be happy to hear more about the student’s future plans and colleges they are interested in.
Students should begin thinking about their recommendation letters earlier than senior year. If they have someone they think they would like to have write a letter, they can foster that relationship earlier on. Many students even ask for their letters at the end of junior year to give the recommenders more time before the rush of the new school year begins.
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