When a Letter of Recommendation Isn’t Just a Letter of Recommendation

Now, that school’s back in session (or about to be back in session), and the excitement of choosing colleges for application can be wearing thin (given that everyone who discovers or knows you’re a senior is asking where you’re applying), so what’s next?  Well, parents, since about July have been asking us about letters of recommendation.  And, since parents have been asking, seniors are starting to feel the pressure (possibly from parents asking them to ask teachers, coaches, etc for letters, as well as watching the other seniors around them start approaching teachers to request letters of recommendation.)

Okay.  Before gearing up to request letters, PAUSE for a moment.  Ask two questions:

  1. Am I applying Early Action or Early Decision that has a November 1 deadline?
  2. What is the purpose of a letter of recommendation within my college application, so I can remain competitive for admissions?

If you answer no, lengthen out your time frame for requesting letters of recommendation, and take longer to consider the answer to question 2.

If you answer yes, move to question two.

Letters of recommendation offer a personal view of a student that should compliment the achievements outlined in her/his transcripts, extra-curricular resume and student’s view in the college essay.  Which teachers would be best suited to give that personal recommendation?  What information, if any, do I need to give to that teacher so s/he can write me the strongest, most competitive letter possible?   These questions may require more effort to answer, before investigating the specific details a college may require, such as:

  • Must the letter be written by an academic teacher (e.g. English, Social Science, Science, Math or Foreign Language)?  Did that teacher need to work with a student in the Junior or Senior year?

Preparing to request letters can add to any possible nervousness about asking for a letter of recommendation in the first place.  Approaching a teacher for help isn’t always the first place students turn, even when needed…for anything.  Now, college admissions are approaching, and “I have to workwithmy teacher?”   That well-worn thinking doesn’t just switch off.  Who knew college applications were going to push Seniors at seemingly every turn?

Think of it this way…if applying to college were easy, how would colleges know you’re serious about attending?  And, if you’re preparing to make a $125,000 to $250,000 investment PLUS 4-5 years of your life, don’t you want to maybe think just a little about that ahead of time?