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recommendation_letterThe school year is winding down and summer is tantalizingly close. But before the school year ends, rising seniors can make progress on their college applications before next year’s essay topics are even released. How? They can ask their teachers if they’ll be wiling to write letters of recommendation for their college applications in the fall.

Letters of recommendation are crucial to college applications, since they help provide context and additional information about students and what they are like in a classroom setting. Because someone else has to write the letters of recommendation, students should line up their recommenders as soon as possible to ensure that they have given their teachers sufficient time to write thoughtful, helpful letters. Read on for what to consider when asking teachers for letters of recommendation.

Why are letters of recommendation important?

Thoughtful letters of recommendation help colleges visualize which characteristics will enhance the college classrooms and communities that they are assembling for the next year. They round out college applications to provide information about students that might not otherwise make it into the application. For instance, teachers can give college admissions officers insight into how hard a student works, how passionate a student is about a given subject, etc.

When should I approach teachers to ask them to write for me?

Ask for letters of recommendations well ahead of time. Asking as soon as possible will give the letter writer enough time to incorporate it into his or her schedule and to write a thoughtful letter.

If students ask for letters of recommendation before the school year ends, they should follow up after the summer to remind their letter-writers to remind them and provide additional information. By the time school starts in the fall, students will also have more information about where they’re applying, and can provide such information to the recommenders once they have it.

How should I ask a teacher to write a letter of recommendation for me?

When asking for a letter of recommendation, it is a good idea to ask if the teacher is willing to write a supportive letter of recommendation. If a teacher hesitates or indicates that s/he is unwilling or unable to write a supportive recommendation, students shouldn’t insist. They are better off finding another recommender. Genuinely enthusiastic and supportive letters of recommendation are the ones that help student applications. Tepid letters that don’t reveal much about the applicant, or letters that have been written grudgingly, don’t contribute positively to a college application.

Who should I ask to write my letters of recommendation?

Students should ask teachers who know them well and with whom they’ve had positive academic and social relationships to write letters of recommendation on their behalf. This way, the letter of recommendation can do its job, which is to provide information about the applicants that wouldn’t otherwise make it into the application materials.

Ideally, students will have letter-writers who taught them junior year, so that the recommender can address the work of an applicant after s/he has matured in high school. Teachers with whom students have taken several courses are also good recommenders, since they can speak to performance over time. Teachers of subjects like math, science, English, social studies/history, and foreign languages are important letter-writers, too, since they can speak to students’ mastery of subjects that students are likely to take in college.

Students can also think about asking teachers who specialize in areas they hope to pursue in college, if students already know what they want to study in college. For instance, if students are passionate about literature, they might ask an English teacher. If they plan to be pre-med, they might seek out a letter of recommendation from the biology teacher.

If students wish to include letters of recommendation from coaches, club advisers, etc., they should do so after they have secured letters of recommendation (as long as the schools to which students apply permit additional letters) from their teachers first.

How can I help my recommender?

Students should provide their teachers with context. Helpful background information refreshes the teacher’s recollection of important moments from class and gives the teacher a brief summary of the student’s accomplishments and extracurricular activities.

Once students know where they’ll be applying, they should provide a list of the schools and the deadlines for submitting letters of recommendation.

Students should also provide forms and stamped envelopes for schools that require recommendations be sent through the mail.

Should I waive my right to see the letters?

Yes. Students should waive the right to see their letters of recommendation. College applications allow students to decide whether to waive the right to see recommendations, but letters that are not confidential are viewed as suspicious. Colleges and teachers understand that such letters are less frank and less accurate than letters that will not be seen by the student (and considered accordingly).

Last but not least, say thanks!

Remember to think your recommenders! They have taken the time to write a thoughtful, supportive letter on your behalf; let them know that you are grateful for it!

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