Tips for Great Letters of Recommendation in a College App

Here are some great letter of recommendation tips.

Flickr user Justin Henry

Letters of recommendation can be a great booster to a college application. Some colleges require them, for others they’re completely optional. But what makes a good letter? How can you ensure you have what you need out of them? Here are a few letter of recommendation tips to help.

A Good Letter Paints a Picture of You

You’re in control of the majority of your college application, but the recommendation letter serves as a sort of “outside opinion” of you. A good letter should attest to your character, hard work, aspirations, and work ethic. It should highlight your academic strengths, maybe point out a few weaknesses, and what you’ve done to combat them. All of this comes from a teacher’s or community leader’s perspective too, giving you some great credibility.

Select Your Writers Carefully

Don’t just run straight for your favorite teacher and ask them to write you a rec letter. Ask the teacher who knows you best, who has seen you grow academically, who can attest to your skills and efforts. That may not be the teacher with the easiest class or the most fun. Ideally, you should ask a teacher in a core class—English, Math, Science, or History—to really nail the academic side of your application.

A good secondary letter writer could be someone involved with your extracurricular activities. A coach, director, supervisor, or team leader. These people can show off a different side of you, the side outside the classroom involved with the community.

Ask Early and Be Polite

Teachers are taking time out of their busy schedules to write this rec letter for you, so make sure you give them plenty of time to think, write, edit, and submit their letters to you. Do not ambush them with a fast-approaching application deadline, or they might have a hastily written letter, or flat out refuse. And ask them in person, not over email.

Be sure to follow up with anyone who does end up writing you a rec letter. Send them a thank you note or email, letting them know you really appreciate their help.

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