COLLEGE MATTERS: Getting a Great Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are an important piece of your college application and can shed light on your potential as a student and as a member of their community that no other parts of your application can. By choosing your writers carefully, providing them with the information they need to write about you, and giving them plenty of time to craft their letters, you stand the best chance of receiving a personal, insightful and positive recommendation.
While your transcript provides valuable quantitative information about your academic strength, a thoughtfully written recommendation provides qualitative details that give the admissions reader a sense of your character and potential both inside and outside the classroom.
You should ask someone who has taught you in one of the five major courses and preferably in 11th grade, as that is when you are doing work that most closely resembles college level work. While it is tempting to ask the teacher from whom you earned the best grade, that teacher may not have much to say beyond how well you did.
A teacher who has worked with you in several contexts will be able to write about you from different perspectives and describe a broader range of your abilities. Perhaps they taught you for more than one class or worked with you on a project outside the classroom such as a school production or a community service trip. The better they know you, the stronger the recommendation will be.
Some schools ask for a personal recommendation. This is a tremendous opportunity to show the admissions office a side of yourself that they otherwise would not see. While it may be tempting to ask the uncle who coached your hockey team or an older sibling who already attends that college to write on your behalf, recommendations from relatives can raise a suspicious eyebrow. However, a minister, an employer, or a coach are all sources of excellent recommendations and can speak to your personal qualities, values and skills.
There are some things that you can do to help your writers craft a strong recommendation on your behalf. If you know which schools you are applying to, tell them why so they can tailor their recommendations appropriately. Also, provide a list of your accomplishments in their class or moments when you shone to trigger their memories. Some teachers ask students to fill out questionnaires, which you should do with thought and care. The more information you provide the more detailed and personal the recommendation will be.
While you may think that the recommendations are the one part of the application that doesn't take much of your personal energy, in fact, there are important steps that you should take to get recommendations that will show you in your best light. So, before you pack away your bookbag for the summer, be sure to identify those people whom you would like to ask to write a recommendation on your behalf, and ask them. And don't forget, when your recommendations have been sent off, be sure to write thank you notes to your writers to show your appreciation.
Reprinted with permission from Metrowest Daily News