Letters of recommendation are an important piece of the application for colleges that require them. The best college recommendation letters provide valuable insight into you as a student and person. They validate from an outside perspective that you have excelled in some way – demonstrated exceptional commitment, reached high levels of achievement, exhibited great character, shown generosity of spirit, or worked well with other people. An effective letter of recommendation might tip the scales in your favor for an acceptance or even greater financial aid.
Follow these 3 simple guidelines to get letters of recommendation that really make a difference:
1. Choose your letter-writers carefully
Colleges often restrict you to only two letters, so you have to make them count. Depending on the college’s requirements, letter-writers may be teachers, counselors, advisors, employers, directors, or coaches. Be sure your writers know you well, are enthusiastic about you as a student and a person, and are supportive of your education goals. They should also be able to write well and respect your requirements and deadlines.
Many colleges require letters from your teachers. Don’t automatically pick teachers who gave you an A in their class. Instead, consider all teachers who like and respect you, connected with you in the classroom, and were excited about your work, your classroom contribution, and your growth in the subject. If you know the subject you want to study in college, ask at least one of your teachers in that area of study to write a letter for you.
2. Give your letter-writers guidance
The best letters of recommendation don’t just say you are a good student and would be an asset to the college, they explain why supported with specific and relevant details. Guide your letter-writers by providing a brief list of your accomplishments relevant to them. Also, give them reminders of how you got there through either your commitment, dedication, tenacity, or initiative.
Some examples of effective reminders include:
A Coach — how seriously you took your training, practiced specific skills on your own time, always arrived ready to work, or demonstrated leadership with your teammate
An Employer — ways you went above and beyond your job description to make a difference, big or small
Your Teacher — how you asked for special tutoring in order help you master a concept you found difficult
3. Make the process easy for your letter-writers
Your letter writers are busy people. And yours may not be the only letter of recommendation they are asked to write. Make it as easy as possible for them:
Give your letter-writers plenty of time—Make your request about one month ahead of the deadline to give them enough time, but not so much that they will forget to write your letter.
Provide letter-writers with clear deadlines – You will know when the college has received your letter by looking on your admissions account on each college’s website. If a letter has not shown up a week or so before the school’s deadline, gently remind the letter writer.
Provide clear instructions –Give letter-writers all the requirements. Make sure they have the correct links or email addresses for electronic submissions. Supply them with any necessary forms and pre-addressed, stamped envelopes for paper submissions.
Finally, realize that a good letter of recommendation takes effort. Be sure to formally THANK your letter-writers afterward!
Learn more about letters of recommendation in our course Completing Outstanding College Applications.