Like applying for a job, you may need letters of recommendation when applying to college. So whom should you ask? What should they cover? What else do you need to do? Read on for some recommendations!
Why Colleges Ask for Recommendations
Letters of recommendation give colleges a trusted second opinion of your high school achievements and how you stood out in the classroom. For example, a Yale recommendation form asks your counselor to rank you from average to outstanding on everything from your sense of humor to your academic self-discipline. This system, which is common in many applications, usually includes a space for a teacher or counselor to say in their own words what makes you a good candidate.
Every college has a different policy for recommendation letters, spelled out in its application. If you submit an application online, check whether the recommendations can also be submitted online. If not, you will need to print out the recommendation forms and give them to your recommenders along with stamped envelopes addressed to the admissions office. A paper application usually includes forms for the letters as well as pre-addressed envelopes.
Whom Do You Ask?
Colleges normally give you specific directions about the people who should complete these forms. These normally include your principal, your high school counselor, and/or teachers. While you have only one principal and most likely one counselor, you do have a choice of which teachers you ask for recommendations.
Pick teachers from different disciplines, such as English and science. Ask teachers who know you well, who have taught you recently, either in your junior year or in the first half of your senior year. While this may be obvious, you need to select teachers who like you and who have shown appreciation for your work. Choosing a teacher simply because he or she is your favorite, however, isn't necessarily a good idea. Pick teachers who have made thoughtful comments on your work. Or teachers who have noticed how much academic progress you have made.
Things You Can Do to Help
You can help expedite the process:
- Before you hand out the recommendation forms, don't be afraid to ask your teachers if they will indeed give you a good recommendation. It is your right to know whether they will be helping your case or hurting it. If they say that they honestly cannot praise you, thank them for their honesty and ask another teacher.
- Supply your teachers and counselor with a copy of your transcript (which you can request from your counselor's office) and a brief statement that lists your academic achievements, your interests, and your goals.
- If pre-addressed envelopes are not included with the application, provide your own stamped envelopes addressed to the college admissions offices.
- Give these materials to your teachers and counselor about a month before the deadline. They will be doing this for many students, and you don't want them to be pressured by deadlines.
- Check in with your recommenders a few times to see if they have completed the letters or if they need more information from you. Be sure to thank them every chance you get.
Should You Submit More Than the Required Recommendations?
Admission counselors have plenty of material about you already. Sending them yet another piece of paper will probably do you little good, unless it is from a person who has a unique insight into your abilities that your other recommenders don't have. If you're not sure, contact the admissions office. It won't hurt to ask.
While you may have little to do with writing or sending your recommendation letters, it is your responsibility to manage the process. Give your recommenders plenty of time, thank them profusely, and check with the college to be sure the letters were received.