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College Resources

Letters of Recommendation

Colleges are keen to learn about the candidate behind the GPA and test scores. They want to know who you are, what makes you tick, the kind of character you display. Obviously, they can glean some of this through your personal essay and even the extracurricular activities you select. Another way they gain insight is through your letters of recommendation.

On average, colleges often ask for between two and three recommendations. Of course, you cannot just expect someone to have a stellar letter sitting in their top desk drawer patiently waiting for you. It is your responsibility to track down a teacher and ask. So, how do you go about this (potentially intimidating) task?

Use Careful Consideration

Hopefully you’ve cultivated relationships with a handful of your teachers. Are there any particular individuals whom you feel know you well? Is there a teacher who has a firm understanding of your academic and intellectual strengths? Keep in mind, you shouldn’t ask someone simply because you earned an “A” in his/her class. A teacher who has seen you struggle yet persevere might be capable of writing a more compelling letter. If you’re not confident about the type or quality of the recommendation, it’s acceptable to ask a teacher if he/she feels comfortable writing on your behalf. After all, you want to choose someone who will happily embrace the task.

Make Their Job Easy

Don’t casually ask someone two days before the recommendation is due. You want to give your recommenders advance warning; they should have enough time to compose a thoughtful letter. Additionally, there’s no need to harass them on a daily basis to see if they have a finished draft. The occasional check-in should suffice. However, you do need to make them aware of your firm deadline. 

To help your recommenders get started, feel free to let them know about your aspirations and what you hope to accomplish in college. You can also offer to type up a resume or list of achievements as a point of reference (if need be). Moreover, you can refresh their memories regarding particular projects you completed for them.

Finally, remember to provide pre-addressed and stamped envelopes for all the schools to which you’re applying.

Remember to Say Thanks

No one is obligated to write a letter on your behalf. Don’t forget to thank your recommenders for their time and generosity. Let them know you appreciate their efforts. And keep them abreast of all your college decisions. They’ll be delighted to learn where you end up!

The Buckley Amendment

The Buckley Amendment is a family privacy law that serves as a safeguard of your rights in regard to letters of recommendation. Understand, that while you have the right to read these letters, colleges will ask that you waive this right in the interest of receiving more authentic information about you. Signing the waiver gives the recommender the flexibility to write freely about you. Realistically, no one is likely to agree to write a recommendation for you and then provide a bad recommendation. If you do not trust the recommender, then you should not have asked that person. In short, choose people you trust and rest assured that confidentiality will work to your advantage.


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Don Munce