Letters of Recommendation: Know the Basics

For those of you wrapping up junior year of high school, you're likely becoming familiar with the many different requirements of the college application. One important component, letters of recommendation, deserves some of your attention before you head into the summer months. Letters of recommendation, written about you by teachers and counselors who've known you in high school, allow the admissions committee at each college to learn more about your character, strengths, and accomplishments as a student. They help to paint a picture of you as an individual, beyond your grades, courses, and test scores.

It's your responsibility to select the teachers who will write your letters, and to ask each one, so make sure you're timely and organized in doing so.

We've put some tips together to keep in mind as you start the process:

    • Match the request. If a college to which you're applying asks for two letters of recommendation, don't send nine. Even if all nine are glowing. Admissions counselors are busy people.

    • Ask early. Teachers are busy too. Think about who you'd like to ask for a letter and do so before the summer begins. This provides your teachers plenty of time to think about what they'd like to write and then get it done.

    • Request from people who know you. Think about the teachers who know your academic strengths and abilities best. You'll want someone who can speak to your participation in class and your work ethic. Most colleges will advise asking teachers from your junior year, as they most recently taught you for a full academic year.

    • Follow the rules. Does your high school have policies on how and when to request letters of recommendation? Is there a specific application or form to complete or an online account to update? Make sure you comply with all guidelines.

    • Be thankful. Be sure to write a thank you note (with actual pen and paper!) for each teacher or counselor who took the time to write you a recommendation. Showing appreciation is courteous and classy.

Our How to Apply to College page offers further advice on letters of recommendation (as well as many other resources to assist you in applying to college). Reference it anytime. And we'd also love to hear from you, our readers, if you have any additional experience or insight on letters of recommendation, whether you've requested them in the past or written them yourselves. Leave your comments on the blog to share with others!