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Line Up Letters of Recommendation

What makes a student tick academically is of great interest to admissions officers. What are your strengths? How do you respond to a challenge? How well do you write? How do you interact with your peers? Do you participate in class? Colleges want to know how a student approached academia, and those who are in the best position to offer a perspective and prognosis about students are teachers.

That's why most colleges require teachers' recommendations. These recommendations do influence admissions decisions. Through these letters, colleges learn about your personality, attitude, character, level of maturity, and special interests.

4 Guidelines for Choosing Recommenders for College Applications

  • Approach teachers who know you well. If none falls within this category, you should try to build relationships immediately.
  • Select teachers from your junior or senior year. Colleges like a recent impression of the student.
  • Consider asking teachers whose subject may relate to a future area of study. For example, students who plan on studying engineering should ask a math or physical science teacher. A student interested in communications should ask an English teacher.
  • Choose teachers who can comment upon growth and willingness to work to improve. Colleges are more interested in learning how a student strives to improve than about how easy it is for him to earn A's.

Start the Recommendation Process Early
Approach teachers early, at least two months in advance of the deadline. Many senior year teachers are flooded with requests for recommendations. Students who procrastinate may find these teachers are already overcommitted or unable to get the recommendations written on time.

Be clear about how the letter will be sent to the colleges. At some high schools, teachers file their letters in the guidance office and they are sent to the colleges along with school records. If your school does not do this, provide the teacher with a stamped, addressed envelope for each college.

Colleges May Require Additional Recommendations
Some schools ask applicants to provide supplemental references, such as from a peer or an employer. When choosing these individuals, it is wise to pick those who can write well. Be sure to discuss with them why you are asking, and give them an idea about what you expect from the recommendation.

The key to selecting a supplementary reference is to choose someone who will offer a unique perspective about you that is not covered elsewhere. Here especially, it is important to choose recommenders with whom you have a close relationship—this will serve you better than an array of vague and impersonal letters.

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