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Letters of Recommendation for Your College Application

By Roxana Hadad

June 02, 2008

One of the most important parts of your college application isn’t written by you: the letter of recommendation. But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Get the best recommendation you can to make a winning impression.

Get Organized

Organization is the key to making sure your recommendations get where they need to go on time. Make a chart of your prospective schools and their application requirements:

  • Application deadlines
  • Application requirements (application form, transcripts, test scores, essays, etc.).
  • Specifics about your letters of recommendation (including who is writing them and deadlines).

Check off parts of the application once you have completed them. The chart will help you keep track of the application process.

Who Should Recommend You?

Choose adults who know you well. Teachers can comment about your academic skills. But also consider other people who can write about your talents and abilities, like coaches, employers, community and church leaders.

Teachers, community leaders and your peers “know the student in ways we can’t. They can tell us about the student’s character and how they’ve seen them grow,” says Roz Bolger, a former admissions officer at Emory University.

Some schools require more than one letter of recommendation from counselors or teachers in particular subjects. Carefully read the instructions on the application before choosing someone to write the recommendation.

Don’t ask family members to write your letters; their comments won’t be as credible to an admissions counselor.

Timing is Everything

Give your recommenders enough time to write thoughtful and articulate letters. At the beginning of your senior year, make a list of people who could write positive recommendations based on your personal character and academic qualities.

Many college applications are due in January, so start asking for recommendations in November. Make an appointment to speak with your recommenders at least two months before the application deadline.

Provide Additional Information

Your recommender can probably comment on your positive qualities and merits, but the most persuasive letters give specific information about your strengths and weaknesses.

“The best recommendations give some insight about the student and knowledge of the school the student is applying to,” says Chris Boyle, senior associate director of admissions at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. “Take time with the person writing the recommendation so that they have a clear understanding of why you’re applying. Give them a viewbook about the school and even your resume for additional ammunition.”

Make sure your recommenders have everything they need to write your letter and submit it on time. That includes:

  • Deadline information.
  • Your full name, address, email and phone number.
  • Two copies of any forms they need to fill out (for a rough draft and a final draft).
  • The name and address of the college or university, and a copy of your completed essay and application. Provide a stamped addressed envelope for their convenience.
  • Information about the school (a brochure or viewbook).
  • A copy of your resume or a list of activities and achievements.

Remember, your recommenders are doing you a favor. Show your appreciation by sending a thank-you note.

By being prepared and organized, you’ll make it easy for your recommenders to write an outstanding letter of recommendation!


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