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How Should Students Ask For Letters Of Recommendation? A List Of Do's And Don'ts

Sep 6, 2017

Now that school’s back in session, first-year college students are making the adjustment to campus life, which can be a big change from high school. And high school seniors who are applying to college should be thinking about who to ask for recommendation letters.

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Lisa Micele (@LisaMicele), director of college counseling at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois, to get some advice for students.

8 Tips For High School Seniors Seeking Letters Of Recommendation

  1. The recommendation is about the “personal connection.” It is not about asking the teacher who necessarily gave you the highest grade on your transcript. Teachers are expected to illustrate how you “go beyond” in their classes. Examples of how a student experienced setbacks and failure can be just as powerful.
  2. If academic recommendation letters are required, these typically come from 11th or 12th grade teachers in your core subjects: English, math, science, social studies and foreign language. These letters can often be supplemented with a letter (or two) from someone outside of these areas as well. For outside letters, it is not about the “title” or glossy letterhead used. Does this person add a new voice to your overall file, allowing admissions to learn more deeply about you? (As a learner, citizen, teammate, employee, musician, volunteer, etc.?)
  3. Students should always ask for letters of recommendation in person.
  4. Waive your right of access, as well. Show admissions officers that you have complete faith and trust in your recommenders and did not insist on reading them first.
  5. Seniors should partner with teachers by providing them a detailed summary of the following: things you enjoyed in class, favorite moments, obstacles faced, areas of growth you experienced and what you found most challenging. Do you have a graded paper or project that brings you great pride? Make a copy and provide that to your writer.
  6. Follow your high school process for inviting teachers electronically to upload letters via admissions portals — such as Naviance and The Common Application — and make certain that your teachers have a list of the colleges you are applying to with listed postmark deadlines and any special directives you need to provide.
  7. This leads into your partnership with your high school counselor. They typically upload a letter of recommendation for you as well. Talk with them often. Complete any questionnaires they may give you. Follow their recommended deadlines and processes.
  8. Show gratitude to those who support you. Thank people for writing letters and always update them on your college application journey and outcomes.
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