Letters of Recommendation
- Recommendations influence admissions decisions. Colleges want to know you as a person and through these letters they learn about your personality, attitude, character, level of maturity and special interests. In trying to narrow down whom you should ask for a recommendation, the key is to select people with whom you have had an ongoing relationship and who are able to offer positive comments that will distinguish you from other applicants. This is not necessarily the teacher that gives you the highest grade.
- An official school recommendation is written on your behalf by teachers and your counselor. You could also submit other recommendations, and it is your responsibility to request these references. We strongly recommend two recommendations from teachers you have had during the junior year and add appropriate supplementary references. These may be selected from the following sources: club advisors, coaches, employers, people who have supervised you in volunteer service, etc.
- The Guidance Office will take responsibility for copying and sending references you want included with your other credentials, if original copies of those references are on file in the counseling office. Find out from those you ask to write about you whether they will mail the recommendation under separate cover or if they are willing to have the letter placed in your file in the Guidance Office. If the letter will be mailed directly to the college by the recommender, it is your responsibility to provide the writer with a stamped, addressed envelope for each college to which you are applying.
- Please be considerate of the counselor’s and teacher’s time and give them at least one week to complete their recommendation.
- Many students have difficulty in deciding which teachers they should ask for recommendations and become confused by the teacher evaluation forms provided by the colleges. Most of these forms ask for general information that teachers usually include in the body of the letters they write. Don’t burden your teachers by insisting that they fill out these forms completely. Secure a commitment early from the teachers you wish to have support your candidacy and suggest that the letter be written on City High stationery. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO REMIND TEACHERS OF DEADLINES. The counselors work closely with your teachers in providing guidance about their role in writing letters of recommendation. Check with the Guidance Office if you have any questions and encourage your teachers to do so as well.
- REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE ASKING TEACHERS TO WRITE ABOUT YOU AS A STUDENT IN THEIR CLASS; they are not writing to a specific college. The teachers you select should write a general reference that will be sent to each college to which you are applying. If the college provides a teacher evaluation form, give it to the teacher to use as a supplement to the general reference. Be sure you have written your name, address, and other information requested at the top of the form before giving it to your teacher.
GUIDELINES FOR DECIDING WHICH TEACHERS TO ASK FOR RECOMMENDATIONS
- Before deciding which teachers to ask, examine yourself as a student to get a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses and the type of learning environment that brings out your best qualities.
- Ask teachers who know you well, and if, as you are reading this, you are uncertain about which teachers to ask, begin developing a closer relationship with a few of your teachers NOW! Colleges want a recent impression. Ask teachers of subjects which may relate to your future area of study. For example, students planning on studying Engineering should ask a math teacher or physical science teacher for a reference; a student interested in Communications would be wise in getting a reference from a teacher of English.
- Check if any of the colleges to which you will be applying requires a recommendation from a teacher of a specific subject. In this case, count the teacher of this subject as one of your teacher references. Please don’t “pick and choose” teacher for each college. Your teachers are very busy and the commitment to write on your behalf is a great one in terms of time and effort. Discuss you teacher choices with a college advisor.
- Choose teachers from different subject areas.
- If English is not your first language, and if you have been in ELL at any time during your years at West, ask a teacher of English for a recommendation. The amount of reading and writing at college is substantial and admissions officers are interested in what your teachers have to say about the quality of your writing and your reading proficiency.
- Choose teachers who can comment upon your growth and willingness to work to improve. Colleges are more interested in learning how a student strives to improve than about the student who earns an “easy A”.
- Choose teachers who can offer different impressions of your academic performance. For example, one teacher may be able to comment upon how you work on independent projects; others could cite your contributions to class discussions or willingness to help classmates who are having difficulty with the subject.
- Approach the teachers you have identified early, at least two months in advance of the college deadline. In college admission, the old maxim that the “early bird catches the worm” applies. Many teachers are flooded with requests for recommendations. Students who procrastinate in asking for references may find themselves in a predicament as teachers may refuse or be unable to meet the college application deadlines. As writing recommendations is time consuming, many teachers limit the number of letters they will write.
- Be courteous with your teachers and make an appointment to discuss your college choices with the teachers you ask. It will not serve you well to approach a teacher on the run in between classes.
- Although some colleges do not require teacher recommendations, if these letters have been written on your behalf and are included with your other credentials, the letters will be read by admissions officers. Protect yourself by thinking that two teachers’ letters are required for your college file.
Abide by the following guidelines in selecting other supportive recommendations:
- Spend time considering whom to ask. List the adults outside your family who have spent time with you and know you best. Among those people you may consider are an employer, a dance or music instructor, coach, youth group leader, or your doctor.
- Narrow your choices and only consider asking people who can offer a unique perspective about you. As a practical consideration, pick people who can write well.
- Ask the right way. Make an appointment with the person you select to discuss your reason for asking and to give the person an idea about what you expect of the recommendation.
- Make your request specific. Indicate the colleges to which you are applying and the deadlines.
- Do not think you will impress admissions officials by obtaining recommendations from prominent citizens or celebrities. College officers know the difference between a letter that has been written for status reasons as opposed to a letter that is a genuine statement about a student’s character. Most admissions officers resent artificial support and are not impressed by “name dropping.” The key is to ask someone who knows you well in a personal context
- ALWAYS send thank you notes to each person who has written on your behalf.
- Questions frequently arise about the value of a reference from an alumnus or an alumna of a college. Again, the rule to follow is if the person is someone who knows you well and has maintained contact with the college, then the letter may be appropriate. College admissions personnel are very savvy about those letters from alumni which are genuinely supportive of the applicant and reflect knowing the applicant well, as opposed to those which have been written as a favor to the applicant’s father’s business partner, etc.
- As a general rule, remember that when it comes to deciding upon supportive documentation for your college applications, you should not confuse quantity with quality. A few well-chosen references from individuals with whom you have a close relationship will serve you better than an array of vague and impersonal letters.
WAIVING RIGHTS TO REVIEW
On many college applications, the student is offered the option whether or not to waive rights to read recommendations that have been submitted as well as other information in the student’s file. The decision to waive your rights is a personal one. We recommend that you waive your rights since colleges may trust the honesty of the recommendation more if a student does not have access to the letter. In fact, students who opt to keep their rights to review are only given access to the letters at the college in which they enroll (by the time you enroll, most documents in your application file will have been shredded to make space for the next application cycle). Students who wisely select those who will write about them should not be insecure about the content of recommendations. Usually, if a person feels unqualified to write on a student’s behalf, or questions the merit of the letter he or she could write, that individual will more than likely decline the request to provide a reference.
Counselor recommendations are maintained in the Guidance Office and included in the students’ applications. These items are confidential and therefore not shared with students or parents. At times, teachers have been willing to show students their recommendations after their applications have been sent, but this happens outside the Counseling Office and is strictly between the student and teacher.