Letters of Recommendation for Your College Application - Where and How to Get Them

When it comes to the college application, recommendations are crucial in making a good impression with the admissions committee. Make sure that you establish good relationships with your guidance counselor and teachers, and start thinking during the summer before your senior year about who you’d like to write your recommendations. The following is a list of common questions that you may have regarding the recommendation process:

How many recommendations should I send?

Make sure you follow the requests of the colleges you are applying to. Often they are specific, citing that you should send them a letter from your school guidance counselor and another from a teacher. Sometimes they even ask for a letter from a teacher of a specific subject. Whatever it is, make sure you meet their requests. It’s OK to send more recommendations than requested, as long as you are sure they are strong ones.

Whom should I ask?

Your Guidance Counselor It’s important to choose teachers, counselors and employers whom you know have strong writing skills and are aware of your credentials. Typically, the first person you should ask to write your letter or recommendation is your guidance counselor. He or she has been working with you in your college search and knows what schools are looking for in a recommendation letter. Teachers Ask teachers who know you well to write your recommendation. It doesn’t really matter which year you took their course, as long as you have a good relationship and you are confident that they will write you a strong letter. It may help to choose a teacher whose subject of expertise relates to the subject you want to study. Employers, Coaches and Others These recommendations may not hold as much weight as a counselor or teacher recommendation, so you may want to use them as supplements to your other recommendations. They should highlight your strengths as a leader, and bring light to your involvement in extracurricular activities and/or teamwork abilities.

When should I ask for my letters?

Timing is everything. Guidance counselors, teachers and coaches often get bombarded with requests for recommendations at the beginning of the school year, so the earlier you ask them the better! You should allow a minimum of three weeks for each recommendation, and be sure to give regular reminders as to when you need to mail your letter.

What should I provide to the person writing my recommendation?

Provide everyone two copies of the recommendation application, so that they have an extra for second drafts. You should also give them a copy of your resume or a list of your extracurricular activities and strengths – so that they may be detailed in their recommendation. Lastly, you may want to give each person a brochure or other information about the schools you are applying to – this will allow them to tailor their letter to meet the needs of the institutions.

You should know…

Often schools will ask you to waive your rights to see your recommendation. This means they will ask the person writing the recommendation to send it directly to the school you are applying to, without you being able to review it first. If you have any doubts as to whether a teacher will write a strong recommendation, ask a different teacher. It's better to be safe than sorry. Sometimes the school requests that the person writing the recommendation sends it directly to the institution, but you are provided with a copy of the recommendation for your records. Either way, make sure you give your teacher or counselor a postage-paid envelope and mailing address with which to send their letter. Finally… Writing recommendations takes time and effort, so don’t forget to write thank-you notes to everyone who helped you with this process!