By Jasmin Figueroa

Fundamentals of Letters of Recommendation for College

Going through all the needed material for college applications can be stressful! Especially the part about where you need to ask someone to write a lot about you. A letter of recommendation can show a different perspective to the admissions officers because it is the only part of your application that doesn’t come from you. It comes from a teacher or mentor.

What is a Letter of Recommendation?

A recommendation letter is a letter from someone who knows you well under an academic or professional setting. This person is able to pinpoint your best qualities and give reasons as to why they recommend you for a position or institution you’re applying for.

Requirements for recommendation letters vary depending on the school you are applying to. Generally, colleges will ask for 2 letters of recommendation from a teacher and then one other from either a coach or club advisor. It’s always important to follow the instructions from each school and to complete the guidelines. So, make sure to never provide more letters than what is asked of you because this is a perfect example of seeing how well you are following application instructions.

The Who

When filling out applications, it’s easy to think of teachers for recommendation letters, but it can be hard to decide on which teacher would be able to write the most about you. Teachers who have known you the longest are always a good option because they can write about your growth and how far you have come. They are able to capture certain qualities that they’ve noticed over the years and even give instances of when you performed well. Teachers that you’ve had more recently can also be a good choice because they have a more recent academic presence from you and can highlight your recent successes. Mentors or teachers who work with you in an extracurricular setting are great options because they can talk about more than just your grades. This reveals the side of you that is involved in the community also. Lastly, teachers who have taught the subjects that align with your goals or even have connections to the college are always a good way to go.

The How

Asking for letters of recommendation can definitely be nerve-wracking because no matter how confident you feel about asking the right teacher, it is always up to them to decide if they are able to or not. That is why it is really important to ask them early on in your application process for a letter and to be as formal as possible. Being 3-4 months ahead of the timeline can be an advantage, along with letting them know as much information about your college applications because it will help them know what to write about. Once your teacher says yes, write them a cover letter, letting them know specific academic achievements, personality traits, and leadership skills. Most importantly, thank them for taking the time to write a letter for you.

The Context

Letters of recommendation should have information about your mentorship and what the teacher thinks about you personally. There needs to be a subject, activity, or some kind of relationship established and mentioned in the letter. There should be solid examples of your performance and how you stand out from the rest of their students. A glowing recommendation also speaks very highly of you and can give a candid representation of who you are.

A strong letter will reveal various strengths that you might have and provide vivid details of the achievements you have made and of your growth. And most importantly, admissions officers want to be able to tell if the teacher who is writing your letter really knows you in a real and authentic way.

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