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5 Steps for Getting a Great College Recommendation Letter

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Recommendation letters from teachers

Recommendation letters are a large part of college applications, but their importance is often undervalued. These letters should serve as a chance for students to show off their efforts both in and outside the classroom: personal attributes, accomplishments, or just your attitude towards learning. A glowing recommendation, especially from someone who knows you well, can make all the difference in setting your application apart from the crowd.

To make sure you receive the best recommendation letter possible, here are 5 simple steps to follow.

1. Decide who you want to write your letter.

Counselors, mentors, and of course, teachers: who will best be able to represent you? A coach will often times be a better choice than your headmaster.

It’s important not to get a fancy signature, but for your recommender to know you well, and be able to recall your strengths on a specific and personal basis. Choose someone who has worked closely with you and has a positive opinion of your work. Students should start brainstorming as early as sophomore year—the sooner you start planning, the better.

2. Request your letter far in advance.

By the end of junior year, you should have decided upon a few faculty members. Most colleges require two teacher recommendations: one from a science or mathematics background and the other related to humanities. This involves multiple teachers taking time to craft a recommendation for you—often with your classmates’requests on their minds and schedules.

We recommend you ask for your recommendation at the beginning of the school year to beat the rush, but it is vital you ask more than one month before the deadline. If you don’t give your teachers enough time, they may decline your request, or write a subpar letter.

3. Ask politely and genuinely.

It takes a lot of time and reflection to write students great recommendations. If you ask someone rudely or even just assume that they will write you a letter, you may run into problems.

Instead of sending an e-mail, try approaching them after class or during office hours—showing your teacher that you are sincere about the request and have put thought into it will help when they get to writing your recommendation.

In the meantime, even if you aren’t in their class, try to give your teachers more material to work with. Emphasize your love for the potential college, or ask if they remember something you achieved under their tutelage.

4. Provide a copy of your resume.

If you have a resume of your academic, research, or professional accomplishments, it’s a good idea to at least offer it to the teachers writing your recommendation. While those writing your letters should know a lot about you, they won’t know everything. By providing a resume, you can pass on specific accomplishments you are proud of, or are hoping they could mention in your letter.

Remember, recommendations are meant to back up your written honors and transcript. Any teacher who cares about your growth in college will be willing to look at your one-page resume—If not, this may be a sign that you should request a letter from a different teacher.

5. Continue communicating.

While this may ensure you a recommendation letter, the process doesn’t stop there. Be clear on when the deadline is so they can send your letter on time. Send a reminder two weeks in advance. Provide pre-stamped envelopes for the materials, if necessary. In short, do what you can to make the process as smooth as possible for both yourself and the one writing your letter.

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