Admissions Tips: Letters of recommendation from non-teachers

College Admissions

The first persongroup of people in different occupations and professions standing isolated over a white background.jpeg everyone thinks about when they're looking to get a letter of recommendation is a teacher. This makes perfect sense, of course--letters of recommendation for college are almost always required to address academic performance, and who better to do that than someone who has taught you in an academic subject? However, if a college gives you some leeway in who you can get to write your letters or asks for more than one letter, don't forget that there are people outside of the classroom who can write you a great one! 

Your Boss

Who knows your work ethic better than the person you work for? A manager can address tons of aspects of your personality that a teacher might not know about: how hard you work, how much responsibility you take on, how quickly you have risen through the ranks, how fast you learn and apply new procedures, and how integral you are to the inner workings of the company. All of these are traits that can speak volumes to admissions officers who are looking for hard-working, motivated students to add to their incoming class!

Your Religious Leader

It may not seem like a likely choice, but the head of your religious organization (if you belong to one) might be able to shed some insight to another part of your personality that might not be particularly evident anywhere else in your application. This is particularly true if you are involved in groups and activities there, such as community outreach, fundraisers, or teaching. 

Your Volunteer Leader

What better way to bolster the list of volunteer activities on your college application résumé than by having a letter of recommendation written by your volunteer leader? They will not only be able to give credence to your claims, they'll also be able to knowledgeably talk about how you have contributed to the organization.

Your ______________________

A common misconception is that non-teacher letters of recommendation must come from esteemed members of the community, like judges, politicians, or military officers. But a letter from someone who can attest to your acts of kindnes and compassion can go far in this day and age when "kindness is the new cool." Take this article from an admissions officer at Dartmouth, who welcomed a letter from the school custodian about the kindness of an applicant. I imagine there will be quite a lot of copycat letters from custodians in this year's batch of applications, so I don't recommend that you go knocking on the door of the janitorial office to request a letter (and especially if you haven't shown the custodian any personal attention over the last three years). But I do recommend that you think about who has seen you demonstrate kindness. Is it the kid down the street who you shoot hoops with on Saturday mornings? A peer at school who was bullied until you got involved? Or the widow up the block whose lawn you have mowed for the last six years?  These people can help paint you in a different light, and one admissions officers are looking for.


While your academic letters from teachers will still hold the most weight, letters from people outside of the classroom can reveal other strengths and character attributes. These people are also likely writing fewer recommendations than teachers will be writing, so they are great resources when getting a jump on your application.


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