Tips for Getting a Great Letter of Recommendation for College

Tips for Getting a Great Letter of Recommendation for College

A letter of recommendation for college is one of the most universal parts of the application process and is something every student, no matter their test scores, extracurricular, or sports, has to have.

As similar as the intent of each letter of recommendation is (helping a school learn about the student in question), each letter of recommendation should also be as unique as the student is. 

It’s important for students to know what goes into getting the best recommendation possible, as doing so is not only beneficial to them, but to the letter writer as well.

Here are some tips on how to get a great letter of recommendation:

 

Getting a Great Letter of Recommendation for College

  1. Choose who to ask carefully and create a list of options early
  2. Develop strong relationships
  3. Be proactive in asking
  4. Offer as much information as possible to whomever is writing the recommendation

First, it is important to identify exactly what type of writer is being asked for on your form:  a coach, teacher, or guidance counselor? Then, as soon as possible, begin brainstorming who might be a good fit for writing your letter It doesn’t even have to be someone you already know, and if not, it’s important to be on your best behavior around them.

By the time they do write it, whomever composes your recommendation should know you well and be able to pull information from numerous conversations you’ve had together.

It’s important to talk to develop a more meaning relationship that allows them to truly understand the type of person you are and gain insight that often goes beyond the classroom or field. 

Once you decide who you want to ask and feel like they know you well enough to write your recommendation, ask them…but keep in mind that the timing of your request is important. 

Don’t ask them too early, such as in your sophomore year, but as the end of the junior year approaches. This would be the perfect time to reach and out to see if they’d be willing to write the recommendation for you. Asking at this time makes sure you get ahead of other students and gives recommenders the most time to compose their letter.

Although your recommender may know a lot about you, there are most likely specific things you may want them to focus on that will pertain to whatever major you’re applying to or the overall theme of your application.

Putting together a “brag sheet”  and giving them as much information as possible about what they should write is very important.

If you have a specific conversation you remember or a time you did especially well in something, mention it to them; it will only give them more food for thought. 

 

How Many Letters of Recommendation Do You Need for College?

In most cases, a school will ask for at least one and often two recommendations.

Usually, schools will specifically want teacher letters of recommendation, however, there are still ways to add in comments from your coach or others.

A guidance counselor is also asked to write a brief letter regarding the student.

In their letter they can add all sorts of quotes from people who know you well such as your coach, religious leader, or club advisor.

 This will allow you to still fit in as many testimonials as possible, while allowing teachers to write the two main recommendation letters.

 

Do Letters of Recommendation Really Help You Get Into College?

As any college counselor will tell you, there’s no surefire way to get into college, and going along with that, no one part of the application will make you a shoe-in at every college.

What makes a teacher recommendation letter stand out depends on what subject the teacher specializes in.

Having a very solid recommendation from your math teacher may be better than an amazing recommendation from your history teacher if you’re planning on studying engineering.

Another aspect to keep in mind is how recently the teacher had you in their class, someone who taught you in ninth grade won’t be as useful to colleges as someone who you had during junior year.

Overall, it is rare that a letter of recommendation will hurt your chances of getting into a college, but conversely, a good letter  can serve as another opportunity to help you stand out amongst your fellow applicants.

 

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Asking a teacher in person should always be the number one option when trying to get a letter of recommendation, however, that is not always possible and so the second best method is simply an email.

Open the email by first telling the teacher about what you have enjoyed about their class and specifically how they were able to improve the whole experience beyond just the subject they taught.

Give an example or two of your favorite assignment or day in class and then talk about what made it so special.

After that, you can then ask them if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation.

Let them know you think they’ve gotten to know you well and that you were hoping to be able to ask in person.

With all these tips and the hard work that goes into being a good student, you should be rewarded with a great college recommendation letter that will hopefully help you get into the school you apply to.

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Matthew Schwartz

Matthew Schwartz

Matthew is a senior at The Haverford School, in Haverford, PA. He is the editor-in-chief of his school newspaper, The Index. He enjoys writing, photography, and film making.
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