college essay help

Who Should Write Your Letters of Recommendation?

Letters of recommendation often fail to attain their potential for a positive impact on college admissions officials at top-tier institutions. IvySelect can guide you in helping the letter writers understand the process in a way that meshes with the expectations of the college officials who review them.

We at IvySelect advise that you consider letters of recommendation to be as vital to college admission as other soft, non-quantifiable factors including essays and interviews. You should devote sufficient time and attention to them just the same as you would with the other soft components of your application package. And you can influence the content of the letters more than you may think.

Admissions officials at Ivy League and other elite institutions consider letters of recommendation to be one source of the holistic picture of you that they form to supplement your academic performance data. They assume that if your teachers speak glowingly and knowledgeable about you and include supporting facts in their letters that you’re more likely to succeed in college and be able to contribute positively to their academic programs and campus community.

As a key part of your application, your letters of recommendation should cohere with your application’s core message. To assure this outcome, you need to develop an admissions strategy as early in the game as possible. Your strategy will ensure that your core message is communicated consistently throughout your application.

Admissions officials seek accurate, positive information about applicants that is not available elsewhere in the application. As they do with other soft factors, admissions officials want to be able to use the letters to narrow the field of academically qualified applicants to a smaller number of students who may ultimately be accepted.

Who writes your letters of recommendation is as important as the letter’s content. Consider the ideas below before deciding whom to ask to write your letters. This will assure that your letters are appropriate, enthusiastic, positive, and specific.

Seek recommenders who will collaborate with you:

You may have an excellent relationship with a recommender and they may agree in junior year to write a letter for you. However, you shouldn’t assume that the rest of the process will take care of itself. At the end of junior year or in the beginning of senior year you should meet with your recommenders. Prepare documentation that includes your CV, a letter about how your interests and how you performed in their class, schools that you’re thinking about for your college list, and, perhaps, a graded paper or exam from their class. Have a candid conversation about the personal attributes you hope they’ll highlight, facts that you’d like them to include, and topics you’d like them to cover. Ask if they’ll permit you to remind them of deadlines.

Ask people with backgrounds that relate to your goals:

For most schools, you’ll need at least two teacher letters of recommendation. Your guidance counselor will also provide an evaluation. Letters from teachers in core courses are preferred – math, science, English, social science and foreign language. Even if it’s not specifically required, it may be a good idea to elicit a letter of recommendation from a teacher who has experience in your intended field of study. They’ll be able to offer evidence supporting your goals in your major. Your IvySelect college consultant will guide you as to the teachers you should ask for recommendations. A few schools, notably Dartmouth, require a peer letter of recommendation. This should ideally be a peer who can personally attest not only to your character but also to your accomplishments. If you have the option of choosing a current student at a targeted school, then do so. This peer can relate your personality and interests in a way that ties them to the targeted institution. He or she can provide relevance by expressing why you would be a good fit for that specific institution. You can also have an outside recommender write an additional letter for you – e.g., a professor that you’ve done research with, a coach, a pastor, the head of an organization at which you’ve volunteered or a supervisor at an office where you’ve been an intern.

Recommenders should know you well:

A lot of what makes asking for letters of recommendation so challenging is that you don’t know exactly what a person who agrees to write a letter for you will say about you. To reduce this anxiety, get to know your teachers and your guidance counselor as early in your high school career as possible and no later than fall of junior year. This allows you to build a relationship over time. Junior year teachers will be the ones who know you best after a full year of teaching you. They are best qualified to convey your potential to succeed in college at the time when applications are due in senior year.

With the guidance of your IvySelect college admissions consultant, you’ll be able to influence teachers and guidance counselors to submit letters of recommendation that foster your educational goals. By helping you to develop your admissions strategy, we assist you in determining the best, most succinct message about your strengths, interests, and goals that can be included in or at least alluded to by your letter writers. In so doing, your image as an outstanding applicant will resonate with the admissions officials who review your application.