How to get the Best Letter of Recommendation for College Admissions

February 18th, 2020

You have spent countless hours achieving a high GPA and standardized test scores. You have also participated in impactful extracurricular activities throughout your high school years. Your application essays may even be flawless.
Why do You Need a Letters of Recommendation 
While the admissions committee learns a great deal about you from the rest of your application materials but recommendation letters can help them to see well beyond test scores and grades and other credentials and can illuminate intellectual curiosity, creativity, and love of learning.Admissions committees read letters of recommendation to understand character traits and unique aspects of your personality. An effective recommendation can merge academic data and personal qualities to help the admissions officer understand the student behind the many pieces of the application.
How to Choose a Reference 
A teacher who you interact with often can share anecdotes and examples to  exhibit how you engage with your peers, community, and topics in the classroom. Are you curious and inquisitive? How you learn from and contribute to your peers’ learning? What your academic strengths, unique skills, and areas for improvement? This goes beyond simply repeating a final grade or counting the number of times you raised your hand to actually capturing your academic personality. Who should write your letter of recommendation? 
Most colleges specify requirements for the authors of your required letters of recommendation. To ensure you have the proper recommenders, you should review the exact requirements for your letter of recommendation on the application portal, school website, or by contacting the office of admissions. It is important to find a recommender who can write confidently and strongly about you. You should ask teachers you have known for multiple years, club advisors, or your high school counselor who know you well. They will be able to describe your academics and personal strengths accurately and from a professional perspective. You should choose someone who has worked with you within the latter half of your high school career; admissions committees understand that people constantly change and grow, so they tend to trust those who have worked with you most recently who have a better understanding of your personality and academic strengths now.
How to get the Best Letter of Recommendation 
Just as you put time and effort into the other parts of your application, you can do a lot to shape your recommendation letters. It’s definitely not cheating to talk to teachers and mentors about what should go into the letter of recommendation. In fact, it shows smart planning and organization.  
It is all about quality, not quantity. You should strive to get 2-3 letters with context that can highlight your best traits as a student and person as a whole. 
To get the best letter of recommendation, create a guideline of aspects to focus on to provide your references with a better understanding of what to include in your letter. Remember, most recommender have a lot of other students to write letters for, so it’s important to remind them of your own accomplishments. You should meet with your teachers and counselors and talk to them about your college plans, meaningful experiences or opportunities, and both personal and academic qualities that you’d like admissions committees to know about. If you’re applying for any specific programs or scholarships, be sure to tell your recommenders. Communicate your thoughts, and you’ll not only remind your recommenders of interesting anecdotes to include, but also help them write a more personal letter. Provide your reference a typed sheet of guidelines so that they have your accomplishments accessible.
Here are a few areas that you can mention in your guideline:
    • Which colleges you intend to apply to
    • Why you are interested in specific college(s)
    • Major(s) or program(s) you are interested in
    • Your future career plan
    • Information about specific classes you have taken
    • Notable achievements
    • Hobbies and activities
    • Your academic history
    • Any challenges you have faced
    • Why your relationship with your mentor is important
This information will make it easy for your reference to provide you will a good letter of recommendation and allow them to give specific examples of your success to showcase your accomplishments. Your GPA and and standardized test scores only give admissions officers a picture of your academic ability, but your letter of recommendation shows the narrative of how you got to where you are now.
Waiving Your Right to Review Your Letter of Recommendation and Sending Your Letter of Recommendation to a College
The typical expectation for letters of recommendation in college admissions is that they are kept confidential. Admissions committees give the most weight to letters that provide an honest and qualified assessment of the applicant. When prompted on your application you should waive your FERPA right. If you choose not to, you could accidentally signal to admissions officers that you don’t trust your recommender or that the recommendation is less candid or genuine. 
Your recommender might also feel you don’t trust him or her. The knowledge that you’ll see the letter at some point in the future might cause your recommender to write a more generic letter, and thus be less powerful and effective in support of your candidacy. 
Most colleges require students’ references to submit their letters of recommendation directly, often providing a portal for references to make electronic submissions.  Provide your reference with clear instructions on how they need to turn in your letter of recommendation. It is recommended that you ask for letters of recommendation as early as August to ensure that references have ample time to prepare a unique letter for you. Letters of recommendation have a huge impact on your college application. Think hard about who can showcase your talents and best qualities, and impress admissions offices with examples of you in and out of the classroom.