Let's face it: when it comes to getting into college there are a lot of students who have great grades and solid test scores. So if you fall into that category, you'll often need the other parts of your application to really shine, including your college letters of recommendation.
A recommendation letter for college is a personal account of your academic performance and character and is usually written by a teacher, guidance counselor, coach or other adult who can speak to your character and strengths. It speaks to your unique skills, achievements and attributes. The right letter can help you stand out from the other applicants and help win over admission counselors.
Here are five tips to get the best college recommendation letter possible.
1. Know the Rules of Recommendation Letters
Each high school and college handles recommendation letters differently. Talk with your high school's guidance counselor to learn the requirements. Some colleges require electronic submissions either through a college application portal, such as Common App, or through direct e-mail to the college's admission board. Other schools require filling out a specific form, which must be sent in addition to the college recommendation letter.
If you know which colleges you want to apply to, find out the correct policies. Some schools do not want to receive your letters until after you submit the application, and other schools have guidelines for who can write a letter. Stanford, for example recommends letters from 11th- and 12th-grade teachers and will accept letters through e-mail, fax or mail without the need of a special form.
2. Know Who to Ask
When it comes to a college letter of recommendation, you are looking for quality, not quantity. Think about the teachers that know you the best and can speak to your admirable personal and academic qualities.
"It's important to ask anyone writing a letter of recommendation to focus on things about you that aren't already evidenced in your application materials or transcripts," said Kristina L. Dooley, a certified educational planner in Northeast Ohio who aids families in the college admission and funding process. "The admission officers can already see what your grades were in your classes so it's better for teachers to share information on your character, attitude and their overall impressions of how they predict you will be as a college student and beyond."
Teachers don't have to be your only source of recommendation letters either. You can also ask coaches, supervisors, pastors and other individuals who have an established role in the community and know you well enough to attest to your character.
3. Be Respectful
It is important to remember that teachers are busy, and their schedules fill up quickly. Ask for your recommendation letter for college as early as possible and ask respectfully. Remember that your recommenders are doing you a favor; this is not an obligation.
With that in mind, make it personal when you ask. For example, say, "Mrs. Jones, I have really enjoyed your teaching and feel that I have learned and grown the most in your class this year. I was wondering if you would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation for college?"
If the answer is no, express your gratitude and ask a different teacher instead.
4. Make It Easy for the Recommender
While your teacher might be able to praise your work ethic in class, giving them a little more information about yourself and your academic and career goals can help them write a truly authentic recommendation letter for college. It can be helpful to create a list of your accomplishments to share with your teachers, which includes your honors, awards and activities.
Along with your accomplishments list, include the recipient's name and address, as well as any other necessary instructions, deadlines and forms. If they are required to mail the letter, be sure to include a stamped and addressed envelope. You want your teacher to write and send the letter quickly without anything to delay the process.
5. Follow Up and Say Thanks
It's important to give your recommenders enough time to write your college letter of recommendation, so don't pressure them one week after asking. A better bet is to send a handwritten thank you note two or three weeks later, letting them know it's an honor to have them write the letter and that you appreciate them finding the time to do so. Such a gesture not only expresses gratitude, but it will also gently remind any teacher who has not written your letter yet.
Don't underestimate the power of a good college recommendation letter. If possible, start asking for these at the start of your senior year to ensure your recommenders have plenty of time to finish your letters and do you justice in the process.