6 Tips for Getting the Best College Recommendation Letters

Previous articles have focused on starting your college searchplanning your trip to campus, and writing your college admissions essay. We now begin to look ahead to another important aspect of your college admissions applications, your letters of recommendation.

How many?

Check how many recommendations you will need by reviewing the admissions application instructions at your selected colleges. The number of recommendations required may vary from school to school.

From whom?

Check application instructions at your selected colleges for requirements and preferences regarding recommendations. Some colleges will specify requirements — for example, sending recommendations from teachers in academic subjects only.

Others may list preferences — such as asking for recommendations from teachers in certain grades. If you are thinking about a particular college major, consider asking a recommender who has taught you in that general area.

Look for the “two-for-one” recommendation.

Many students have a teacher in an academic subject who has also served as an extracurricular advisor or coach. These are often the best recommendations we see at colleges, as the writer knows the student in multiple contexts. In many cases, it’s like getting a two-for-one recommendation.

More is not necessarily better.

If you are considering submitting “extra” recommendations beyond those required, check with individual colleges to see if these will be helpful, or even accepted. If so, be sure to make those recommendations worthwhile, and have them come from people who know you well.

Ask early.

Once you have decided on your potential recommendations, ask early — well in advance of application deadlines. Be respectful of your recommenders’ busy schedules. You’ll also increase your chances of getting a better-written, more helpful recommendation.

To waive or not to waive?

As you fill out your college applications, you will be asked whether or not you want to waive your right to access letters of recommendation. I generally recommend that admissions applicants waive this right, for at least two reasons:

First, it can encourage recommenders to be more honest and forthcoming. Second, if you are not admitted by the college, it is highly unlikely that you would have access to your application file anyway.

Post By:

Scott Steinberg

Vice President of University Admissions

Scott brings his extensive experience in higher education from Bates College, University of Southern Maine, and Bowdoin College to UNE’s undergraduate and graduate admissions teams. Before his career in higher education, Scott served as a marketing director at the New York Life Insurance Company. Outside of work, he enjoys playing tennis, spending time with his family, and appreciating life in Maine.