Who should write your college recommendation letters?

College Admissions

This week's College Admissions Tip of the Week comes from Lauren Rudick, one of our SAT instructors and college admissions counselors.


letters resized 600Letters of recommendation are the one part of your college applications that you don’t do yourself and don’t have direct control over. But you can still influence this part of your applications by choosing good people to ask for recommendations.

Your recommenders can be teachers or counselors, coaches or extracurricular activity advisers, pastors or other prominent people in your community, or supervisors at work. When choosing people to ask for letters, keep the following points in mind.

Know the requirements of the colleges you’re applying to.

Colleges vary in the number of recommendations they require, and some might not require any. Some require that a certain number of recommendations come from teachers. Make sure you understand what you need. Also find out how your recommendations must be submitted. If your schools have forms for recommenders to fill out, see what they’re asking.

Choose recommenders who know you well.

They should be able to share experiences in which you have shown exceptional intelligence, hard work, creativity, initiative, leadership, and character. You don’t have to choose the teachers in whose classes you earned the best grades. In fact, a teacher whose class was difficult for you might have more to say about your work ethic and persistence.

Choose people who can articulately evaluate your strengths.

You want your recommenders to persuade admissions officers to accept you, so how they make the case for you is important. You can’t always know how good a letter someone will write, but if you have teachers who usually write thoughtful comments on your papers or a supervisor at work who has written you a good and thorough evaluation, you know they’re likely to write good letters.

Look for diversity.

If you’re submitting more than one recommendation, try to find people who have seen different strengths in you so the admissions officers will get a well-rounded picture of you. That might mean choosing an English teacher who’s impressed by your creativity and a science teacher who’s impressed by your ability to grasp complex ideas. Or it could mean choosing a teacher who knows your academic strengths and a coach or work supervisor who would comment on your leadership ability.

Once you’ve chosen your recommenders, give them plenty of time to write their letters. Explain your schools’ deadlines and requirements for recommendations. If your recommenders need to submit evaluations online, make sure they know how to do that. If they need to fill out forms, make sure you provide those forms and envelopes. And be sure to thank your recommenders.

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Photo: "Letters (0108)" courtesy of The D34n.