4 Student Tips on Getting Strong College Recommendation Letters


June 22, 2017 3:34 PM
by Christina Zhou
When it comes to college applications, most students worry more about whether or not their grades are high enough, whether their essays are well-written, or if they have enough extracurricular activities. College recommendation letters are often lower on the list of priorities and are often hastily asked for close to the deadline. However, college recommendation letters are often one of the most common ways to distinguish between quality applications. Below are several ways to avoid getting tepid college recommendation letters that make your otherwise quality application look lackluster.

When it comes to college applications, most students worry more about whether or not their grades are high enough, whether their essays are well-written, or if they have enough extracurricular activities. College recommendation letters are often lower on the list of priorities and are often hastily asked for close to the deadline. However, college recommendation letters are often one of the most common ways to distinguish between quality applications. Below are several ways to avoid getting tepid college recommendation letters that make your otherwise quality application look lackluster.

  • Ask early. Teachers are often very busy, and quality college recommendation letters take time and effort to write. Asking them right before the deadline is both inconvenient and inconsiderate. They may flat out turn down your request, and if you don't have backup options, you may miss out on applying for certain schools. Even if they do, they will most likely not do as good a job as they could have done if you had asked sooner.
  • Teach them about you. If they agree to write a college recommendation letter, you should provide them with a copy of your resume. If you don't have a resume, a short summary of yourself will do. You might also want to refresh their memory of your performance in class.
  • Choose wisely. Ask a teacher that you had for a class fairly recently - junior year is probably best. The exception to this is if you have a teacher that you have had for multiple classes and/or have built up a very good relationship with. For example, you can ask your band teacher for a recommendation if you have been in band for many years and performed well. If you are applying with a specific major in mind, or if you are applying to a major-specific program, it would be a good idea to try and get a college recommendation from a teacher that teaches that subject.
  • Ask in person. This is so important! You can email to meet with them to talk about it, but the actual request should be done in person. College recommendation letters are time-consuming to write, and also require a level of connection. Too many college recommendation letters sound like fill-in-the-blank forms.
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