Letters of Recommendation

When you ask your teachers and counselor for recommendations, make sure that you give them enough information about you that they will be able to write excellent letters. 

Your letters of recommendation are among the most important parts of your college application package. Well-written recommendation letters tell the admissions officers at your dream schools the type of person you are beyond your SAT scores and your academic record. These letters give insight into your personality and whether or not you might be the right fit for the schools to which you apply. Understanding how to choose the people to ask to write your recommendations and what the schools are looking for is a critical part of improving your chances of being accepted into the most elite schools in the country or whatever school you like regardless of which Phoenix-area high school you might be currently attending.

The Going Ivy Difference

At Going Ivy, we work closely together with students who attend public, private and charter high schools in the Valley, including Brophy Prep, Xavier Prep, Phoenix Country Day School, Notre Dame Prep, Basis, Arcadia High School, Mountain Valley High School and many others throughout the greater Phoenix area. We use a three-step process to help you identify your skills and goals, and we work together with you to help you to gain admission into the top schools in the country. We help you to understand how to identify the best people to ask to write letters of recommendation, why they are important and what schools look for in them. We can also help you to establish a memorable track record during high school so that your chosen recommenders will have plenty about you to write, helping you to stand out from the applicant pool.

When, Why, Who and What: Everything to Know About Recommendation Letters

Ivy League schools and many other top universities ask applicants to submit at least two teacher recommendations and one counselor recommendation. Applicants are sometimes also able to submit additional recommendations from someone who knows them well. Admissions officers use these letters in order to get a sense of your personality beyond the other parts of your application. They also want to know who is willing to speak up on your behalf. Your recommendation letters may help you to stand out in a way that your grades and test scores might not, especially when you consider the thousands of applicants each year to the top schools in the country. For example, Yale admitted 2,272 people to its incoming freshman class for the fall of 2017 out of 32,900 applicants. This shows how important your recommendation letters may be in helping you be part of the small percentage of people whose applications are successful.

Make sure that the people you ask to write letters of recommendation for you know you well enough to write about you with vivid detail that makes you unique from other applicants. Some applicants make the mistake of asking people who are famous to write recommendation letters despite the fact that the recommenders don’t really know them well. William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, says that you should reserve your additional recommendation letters for people who know you well rather than based on their positions. Rebecca Sabky, an undergraduate admissions counselor at Dartmouth, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in which she talked about one of the best recommendation letters that she had ever read. It was from a custodian who wrote about how the student was the only person in the school who knew all of the janitors by name. Sabky reports that the admissions officers unanimously voted to accept him because of his apparent kindness.

Your recommendation writers should also be people who are eager to write about you. If someone replies in a lackluster way about being willing to write a letter for you, maybe it’s time to look for another person.

It is important that you ask people to write your recommendation letters long enough before your earliest deadlines that your recommenders will have enough time to write them. Teachers and counselors are asked to write many letters of recommendation for students every year. At a minimum, you should ask at least one month in advance. It is best to ask for recommendation letters during your junior year with a reminder as the deadline approaches to make certain that the letters have been sent. When you do ask your teachers and counselor for recommendations, make sure that you give them enough information about you that they will be able to write a letter that is unique. For instance, you might want to explain any problems with your transcript, tell them your goals and aspirations, discuss any obstacles that you may have conquered and other important information. Remind your teachers about your best work in their class and how what they taught gave you a new perspective. A little flattery never hurts, but make it sincere. Some students give their recommenders short resumes that can be referred to for more specific information, and your Going Ivy adviser can help you put that together.

When you are completing your application materials, you will see a box that allows you to waive your right to see your recommendation letters. Go ahead and check this box, and do not ask the people who write letters of recommendation to show you copies of what they wrote. This will make your letters more valuable to the admissions staff because they will not think that your teachers and counselor would feel the need to be less than honest. Their letters will be trusted more if you have not seen them. After you have submitted your application and your recommendation letters have been sent, make sure to send thank you notes to all of the people who wrote letters on your behalf. Make sure to follow with them when you have decided which school you will be attending.

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At Going Ivy, we understand how to best position you to get into the school of your dreams, including how to obtain the best recommendation letters. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you on your road to success!

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