Everyone remembers to study those SAT vocabulary words and edit their numerous drafts of admissions essays, but one often neglected part of the college application process is recommendation letters. Recommendation letters serve as a way for colleges to learn more about you as a person from an outsider’s perspective instead of through your test scores or what you want them to hear through your essays. They’re a more objective method of letting colleges know whether you’re a right fit for them or not, because recommendation letters are written by people who know you well and can provide a different angle to your story.
The Common Application typically requests you to submit one counselor recommendation letter and two teacher recommendation letters. Remember to provide your counselors and teachers several weeks of notice before your application deadline! They may have multiple other students asking them to write evaluations for them as well, and it’s never easy to write glowing recommendations for students on a tight deadline–talk about pressurizing! Additionally, you should ideally provide them with some information about the colleges and majors you’re planning to apply to in order for them to align their recommendations to your specific needs, as well as your resume, so they won’t have to constantly ask you for more information about your experiences. You want to make this process as easy and convenient for them as possible. It’s a no-brainer–the better the relationship you have with your counselor and teachers, the better their recommendation of you will be.
When choosing teachers to write your recommendation letters, ensure that they are teachers who have taught you recently, so they can provide a more accurate account of you. Ideally, the teachers who write your recommendation letters should be the teachers you are closest to and are well aware of your abilities, teachers whose classes you’ve excelled in, and teachers who teach the subjects that are most relevant to your intended major. A good example to follow is choosing teachers who have taught you core subjects, like English, mathematics, science, social studies and foreign languages.
Another important step to remember is to waive the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This states that you have access to the letters of recommendation written by your counselor and teachers, so by waiving it, you’re showing colleges that you have no idea what is being written about you. While you may be itching to read what your teachers think of you, waiving this right is vital. Colleges will validate a recommendation letter much more if they are certain that you have no hand in manipulating its contents. Of course, it also goes to suggest that colleges may suspect possible foul play from students who don’t waive this right. The teachers you’ve chosen to write these letters may also feel more comfortable doing so if they know that their letter is being kept confidential.
There is also an option of submitting an extra non-academic recommendation letter through the Common Application. Whether you do so or not is entirely up to you because it’s not mandatory at all, unless a college specifically asks for it. In most cases, it may not be necessary to submit an extra recommendation letter because you’ve already shown every positive aspect of yourself that you want to highlight to the college admissions officers through test scores, extra-curricular activities and essays. An extra letter may not add extra insight or value to your application that isn’t already mentioned elsewhere. Remember that more is not always better–it’s always quality over quantity when it comes to the college admissions process. After all, college admissions officers have lives too, and may not think more highly of you just because you’ve submitted an extra letter. In fact, you’ve given them extra work to do! As long as your application already projects you in a way that pleases you, don’t submit an extra letter just because you can.