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Countdown To College

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Countdown to College: How to get a great letter of recommendation

By Lee Bierer

While students don’t have control over the content of their letters of recommendation, they have more power than they realize. There are many things a student can do to improve the likelihood that a teacher will write a strong recommendation that will impress the admissions office.

First, a student needs to understand their school’s policies on letters of recommendation as well as those of the colleges where they plan to apply.

Many high schools now use Naviance, a college admissions software program that manages the process. Other high schools may work directly with Common Application. Some colleges don’t require letters of recommendation, but that doesn’t mean that students aren’t allowed to submit one or two. Other colleges might be very specific and require that a math or science teacher write the letters.

What’s the best way to help a teacher write a great letter of recommendation? Assuming the teacher responded enthusiastically (be sure to read body language here – that’s why it’s important to ask in person and not via email), it is then the student’s job to prepare the recommender. Provide the teacher with adequate information.

Here are some suggestions of things you can include in a folder for your recommender:

• A resume or brag sheet that shares how you’ve been spending your time outside school when you’re not doing homework.

• Your Personal Statement or your long essay. Some teachers prefer to write their letters of recommendation over the summer, which means you won’t be able to include this essay. But many teachers will write them after you return to school in the fall and will appreciate reading what you have to say about yourself.

• A brief paragraph on what you’re looking for in your college experience. This is where you can address your specific interests, possible majors and the type of colleges that represent a good fit for you. This will help the teachers personalize their letters.

• Your college list with specifics on their application deadlines and letter of recommendation policies (online submission or hard copy). I also suggest you specifically state which recommendations you would like submitted first. Remember that many colleges have early admission deadlines of Oct.15 and Nov. 1.

• All recommendation forms printed out and stamped-addressed envelopes to the college’s admissions office if they are not being completed online.

• Show your appreciation and be sure to include a personal note of thanks. Remember that teachers are writing these letters on their own time with no compensation.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.
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