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college | opinions & advice | applying to college
The Letter of Recommendation
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GPA and test scores are the two most important factors in college admissions, but that doesn't mean you should neglect the other parts of your application.
Competitive colleges use the letter of recommendation to assess your passions, goals and character. They want more than just a statistic.
Solid recommendations tell a college whether you're the type of candidate they seek. Most schools ask for two recommendations, generally from teachers at your high school. Some allow you to submit additional recommendations from employers, counselors or coaches.
To snag strong recommendations, consider the following advice.
Build Relationships Early
Get to know your teachers well before you ask them for recommendations. You don't need to sip tea in the teacher's lounge or invite them to a matinee. Just take advantage of opportunities to speak with them, especially the ones you like (or the ones whose classes you excel in). Seek help or advice when you have a tough paper or a difficult test. When you really get to know a teacher, he or she will be able to speak to your true character and your strengths, not just your score on the last exam. Many colleges also expect a recommendation from your guidance or college counselor, so don't neglect that relationship!
Cultivating relationships like this is often called "networking". Networking isn't sleazy or opportunistic. In fact, personal relationships are the best way to find great opportunities. Networking with professors in college will get you great grad school recommendations. Networking with colleagues post-college will help you score great jobs. Start practicing now!
Don't feel compelled to get a letter of recommendation from a teacher just because he or she gave you an A+. You're looking for a well-written, compelling letter from a faculty member who knows you well or who teaches a subject you're interested in. Sometimes, you can get a very strong recommendation from a teacher who has seen you struggle or overcome difficulties
Don't be afraid to ask potential recommenders whether they feel comfortable writing for you. Some will say no (they're overworked or don't feel they know you well enough), and that's okay. You want recommenders who are enthusiastic about the task.
Treat Your Recommenders Well
Give your recommenders plenty of advance notice that you want them to write for you. Once they agree, make their job as easy as possible. Give them everything they need to complete the task, including a stamped envelope, the recommendation form (with your information already filled out), and a clear list of deadlines and addresses.
We also recommend that you provide a list of your achievements, activities, goals and any other topic you think is important. Keep it brief.
Deliver all this material to your recommender in person and ask if there is anything else they need from you. And don't forget to write a thank-you note. This person is doing you a big favor!