Students who aspire to attend college should develop an admissions strategy. Among the key features of this strategy will be a “core message” that conveys in few words your most distinctive characteristics — the ones that will add value to a college’s freshman class.
Letters of Recommendation (LOR’s) play a key role in this process. Just as with your essays, interviews, and personal statements, LOR’s should conform to your strategy and reinforce your core message.
LOR’s Are a Key Part of College Admissions Decisions
College admissions officials value LOR’s as input to the holistic image they seek to form to complement the hard data of your academic record. LOR’s add a personal perspective that the rest of your application cannot. They reiterate aspects of your core message via responsible third parties who know you well. Moreover, a LOR can introduce positive personal traits that you haven’t claimed elsewhere. From the perspective of an admissions official, LOR’s that are consistent with your message can be used to justify their preference for your application over those of equally qualified peers.
Over 15% of top-tier colleges view LOR’s as “highly important” in admissions decisions and more than half regard them as “moderately important”. A mediocre LOR will hurt your chance of admission and a poor one can have a devastating effect.
Who You Should Ask to Write Your LOR’s
You can influence the impact of your LOR’s more than you may think. You should devote the same time and attention to them that you do to the other parts of your application. Who you ask is a critical factor in developing effective LOR’s. Your goal is to have your recommenders submit letters that are relevant, positive, enthusiastic, and factually specific.. Seek teachers who know you well and like you. The quality of the LOR is a more important consideration than the prestige of the person writing it.
Most colleges require that you submit LOR’s from one or two teachers. Don’t submit more than required. Colleges prefer LOR’s from 11th grade teachers because they have recent experience in teaching you for a full academic year. LOR’s from teachers in core courses are preferred, especially if they’re in your intended field of study. If you plan to major in a STEM field and you need two teachers as recommenders, ask an English teacher to write one of the LOR’s. Admissions officials know that writing proficiency contributes to success in all majors.
Your recommenders should attest not just to your academic acumen, but such things as how well you listen, your leadership traits, and your contributions to the class. They should also be prepared to praise your character and state that you’re a kind, considerate, likeable person, or something to that general effect.
Planning for LOR’s Step-By-Step
Follow the process below to assure that your LOR’s will have the desired impact.
- Best Time to Ask: Since 11th grade teachers are preferred, ask them early in spring semester of that year. You can also ask 10th grade teachers that you’re sure will write glowing recommendations. If a teacher even hesitates due to doubts about your worthiness, find someone else.
- Remove Doubt: The quality of your LOR’s should never be a gamble because you’re not sure what a teacher will write about you. Eliminate this risk by arranging a meeting with recommenders late in junior year.
- Make it Easy for Them: Prepare for the meeting by writing a letter to the teacher to remind them how well you did in their class. In it, list the colleges to which you’ll be applying in senior year. Include your educational goals and career plans. Attach a graded paper or exam from their class and a copy of your résumé. Most importantly, discuss with them the personal attributes that you would like them to mention and the key facts to include. This enables recommenders to write a detailed and consistent narrative that aligns with your core message. Also ask them if they’ll permit you to remind them of the submission deadline in senior year.
- Be Ready: Due to their busy schedules, many teachers will accept your draft of the LOR to facilitate their task. Many of them will produce a final LOR that strongly resembles your draft. Have your draft with you in case a teacher asks for one. Don’t give it to them unless they ask.
- Thank Them: Send a “Thank You” note afterwards.
Your application will stand out from your peers if it’s supported by teachers who describe you in highly favorable terms. Your core message is confirmed if teachers and other recommenders reflect parts of it in their LOR’s. There will be resonance throughout your application because what you have written about yourself will be confirmed by what your recommenders write about you.
In addition to teacher LOR’s, Louis Educational Consulting will coach you on how to elicit an optimal report from your guidance counselor. We also assist with recommendations from peers and persons not affiliated with your school. With our help, you’ll enhance your application with LOR’s that will have a strong, positive impact on college admissions decisions.