Letters of Recommendations

The more selective the school, the more important the letter of recommendation is.

As with many aspects of the college admissions process, letters of recommendation carry mystery and myths with them. If you’ve heard that admissions officers don’t read the recommendations, don’t believe it. After high school grades and curriculum, test scores and your college application personal statement, the State of College Admissions Report lists the letter of recommendation as the next most important factor in college admissions decisions. And if your application has been put into the waitlist, a well-written letter of recommendation can make all the difference.

It is true that some colleges and universities do not require recommendations. It is also true that some make recommendations optional and read them only if a student is on the border of admission versus rejection. But for many highly selective schools, letters of recommendation are taken very seriously for all students when considering admission. Some schools want to see several letters of recommendation for each candidate, and some consider the recommendation of a coach, boss, friend or mentor besides the typical high school teacher.

A 2011 National Association of College Admissions Counselors study found that nearly two-thirds of colleges indicated that letters of recommendation were considerably or moderately important to admissions decisions. A good rule of thumb is the more selective the school, the more important the letter of recommendation is.

Making the Ask

By writing a letter of recommendation, the teacher, coach, counselor or other mentor you ask is personalizing your college application with their own description of you. Your goal in selecting a person who recommends you is to choose someone who will advocate for you enthusiastically and write vividly about why you should be admitted to college.

At Going Ivy, we recommend scheduling a meeting with your selected high school teacher(s) to see if they would be willing to write a letter for you. Tell them how much you respect them and what your own college aspirations are. Give them details and don’t be afraid to show emotion.

Colleges usually want to see recommendations from teachers from your junior year of high school in a core subject (English, math, science, history or foreign language). If there is a teacher who has taught you in more than one class or knows something about you from outside of the classroom (in a sport or club), he or she is in a great position to offer even greater detail about you in the letter and is a wonderful person to ask.

The Letter Should Be More Than a Brag Sheet

Once you’ve asked the teacher, and that teacher has eagerly said yes (if he or she does not seem eager to write the letter, it might be best to ask someone else), don’t assume your work is complete. You will want to provide the teacher with some information about you to help him or her write their letter.

Many high schools call this a “brag sheet.” It might include:

  • Listing of school clubs/athletics with any offices held and years of involvement
  • Description of any community service and years of involvement
  • Career goal
  • Proudest accomplishment
  • The colleges you’ll be applying to and the major you’re interested in

All of these details are important, but Going Ivy recommends more. Your information to your recommender should be personal to them and communicate just how important they are to you:

  • What did you learn in his or her class?
  • How did this recommender challenge you and help you grow?
  • What lesson or topic from his or her class stayed with you?
  • Why does his or her recommendation means so much to you?

When you work with a Going Ivy college admissions expert, we’ll help you outline this letter for your recommender so he or she knows exactly how great you are. A little flattery never hurts, but keep the message sincere. Make sure you are polite and not demanding and come to a reasonable deadline together.

Waiving Your Right to See Your Letters of Recommendation

When submitting your official college applications, you will note the names of the people providing your recommendations and decide whether to waive your right to see the letters they write. It’s best to waive this right. If you do not, your teachers and recommenders might not want to write for you, and the colleges you apply to could disregard the letters altogether. Once you have been admitted to the school of your dreams and enrolled, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) allows you to access the letters of recommendation to that school.

The Department of Education offers the following guidance:

“Why should you consider waiving your right of access? Waiving your right lets colleges know that you will never try to read your recommendations. That in turn reassures colleges that your recommenders have provided support that is candid and truthful. While you are free to respond as you wish, if you choose not to waive your right, some recommenders may decline your request, and some colleges may disregard letters submitted on your behalf. Remember, even if you retain your right of access, you still won’t be able to view any recommendations until after you have been admitted to and enrolled in a college. In other words, FERPA does not give you the right to inspect recommendations before they are sent to your colleges.

At Going Ivy, we have worked with students to obtain admission to the college of their dreams. Our experienced admissions counselors work with you on confidently applying to college. That confidence will help you be less anxious about waiving your rights to view your letters of recommendation.

If you have applied to the school of your dreams and your admission is on the wait list, Going Ivy usually recommends another letter of recommendation from a teacher, supervisor or even an alumna/alumnus to support your acceptance. Find more strategies to boost your chances of acceptance off of the waitlist here.

Call Going Ivy Today

Going Ivy can help give you confidence in every step of your college admissions process, including asking for letters of recommendation from the best sources. Call us today to schedule your free consultation to learn more about how we can help you achieve your goals.

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