3 Secrets for a Powerful College Letter of Recommendation

letter of recommendation

3 Secrets for a Powerful College Letter of Recommendation

Have you thought about asking your teachers or coaches for college letter of recommendation? If not, you’re missing out on this powerful tool that can benefit you during your college application process.
Most students slack off when it comes to asking for letters of recommendation. However, these letters can be just as important as your standardized test scores or your extracurricular activities. The letters help college admission staff get a sense of who you are by reading your recommendations. Letters of recommendation give you a chance to showcase your genuine personality and work ethic to the admissions officers. Since most college admissions officers don’t get to meet you during the application process, your recommendation letters will serve as a first impression.

So– how do you get a letter of recommendation? Luckily, the student doesn’t need to do the writing. Rather, your job as the student is to select your top teachers, coaches, mentors, or other adults from your community to write a compelling, professional endorsement for you.

It is crucial to take the right steps so that your mentors can showcase your character, work ethic, and contributions. There are three important things to remember when dealing with letters of recommendation: early planning, selection of authors, and clear communication.

Early Planning

We’ve learned the importance of planning early for taking SATs, ACTs, and submitting college applications. Now, we need to be proactive in asking for letters of recommendation too?!
That’s right—you should treat letters of recommendation like any other step in the college process. Now is the perfect time to act. Utilize the time during summer to give your teachers time to write. The earlier you ask your authors, the more time they will have to write a strong letter on your behalf. It’s important to remember that you are not the only student in the world; teachers write multiple letters of recommendation every year. If you ask too late, don’t be surprised if they decline your request or submit a letter that is less impactful than you hoped.

Planning early also gives you a chance to think about who will write your letter of recommendation. Take your time and choose the teachers or mentors with whom you’ve worked closely or have a strong connection. Coaches, managers, and supervisors from volunteering can also write you a letter of recommendation. Ideally, you should ask teachers before summer break begins or at least have your list of teachers created. The sooner you contact them the better. Just like any other part of applying for college, letters of recommendation require time so start early.

Selecting the Right Teachers

First things first, please choose a teacher that knows and likes you. It would be very awkward if you chose a teacher that didn’t like you to write your letter of recommendation. Choose the teachers that share your interests and with whom you have strong connections. Also, avoid asking teachers whose subject you did not comprehend or master. It’s tougher for them to write you a good letter if you did poorly in their class. Ideally your letter of recommendation is about how you overcome challenges, mastered tough subjects, succeeded, and developed high character. This is the story you want them to tell, but it requires you to first play the starring role in that life. Further, select teachers that recognize you are hardworking and responsible.
College admissions officers are impressed when multiple teachers praise a student for their work ethic. Selecting the right teachers to write your letter of recommendation is critical. The scary truth is the person you select to write your recommendation has the final say as to what is written on that letter. Give them something good to say.

Communication

Communication is extremely important, but can be neglected or forgotten in the endorsement process. Your recommendation letter should be compelling and well written, so do not be afraid to contact the authors to ask them questions. Here are some instances where communication is key:

• Politely asking teachers to write a GREAT letter of recommendation
• Colleges receive thousands of letters of recommendation every year, so your letter needs to stand out.

The more scholastically elite the college, the more you will need to differentiate yourself. A generic and general letter won’t catch anybody’s attention. Your letter needs to be specific and detailed and should tell a story. Make sure that your teacher is comfortable with writing a GREAT letter for you – one that makes you, the student, stand out. Emphasize this point politely and with due respect. They don’t have to do this for you.

When asking your teacher or mentor to write this letter for you, you could say, “I recognize the additional time you dedicate to my development and success. I hope to go to an academically challenging college. Would you be able to write a strong recommendation letter to help me?”

If one of your favorite mentors turns you down, respect their decision. You don’t always know what life challenges they are facing. If they do accept, stay in touch throughout the process.
When a teacher agrees to write a letter for you, don’t just leave it at that. Ask them if they need any additional information for the letter. Highlighting specific experiences or memories with that teacher often works well in letters of recommendation, so you could suggest a few examples of projects or memories where you demonstrated great leadership skills or went above and beyond the call of duty to help them get started. The more personalized the letter, the more impactful it will be to the college admissions office.

Finally, be sure to thank the author for everything they have done for you. Most students will buy their teachers a small gift to show their appreciation and gratitude. Even a simple email or hand-written card would work fine as well. Whatever you do, make sure you take time to say thank you. These teachers are invested in helping you punch your ticket to your dream college. The least you can do is thank them for everything they did for you.

I had the chance to visit the University of Chicago about a month ago and the Dean of Admissions told me a story I will never forget. He told me that there was an applicant a couple years ago who had stellar grades, widespread extracurricular activities, and a perfect score on the SAT. Most colleges would dream for a student like this, but surprisingly University of Chicago rejected her. I was shocked. I knew that they were a tough school, but that applicant sounded so well-rounded that I couldn’t understand the disconnect. Then he told me.

Her letters of recommendation were weak. Her teachers must’ve said something in those letters to concern him because he rejected that applicant in the end. This story will live with me forever because it shows how important letters of recommendation truly are. Colleges care about them just as much as your grades and test scores. So, don’t slack off on acquiring them.

In short — these endorsement letters are a lot more important than you might think they are. Don’t forget to be your authentic self throughout the college process. Whether it be letters of recommendation or college essays, being genuine is vital when writing about yourself.

Good luck as you start asking for your college endorsement letters, and if you’d like tutoring help with any tough subjects, or guidance preparing for the ACT or SAT, the team here at Learning Ascent Tutoring in St. Charles is happy to help. Get in touch by calling us at (630) 587-2795, emailing us at [email protected], or stopping in for a visit at 2020 Dean Street Unit N St. Charles, Illinois 60174.

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