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How to get great recommendations

Students should reach out to individuals who know them well when requesting letters of recommendation for college and scholarships.
Students should reach out to individuals who know them well when requesting letters of recommendation for college and scholarships.
Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

A large part of the college application is securing the recommendations. The Common Application requires a recommendation from the counselor and a teacher. Other colleges require recommendations from coaches, pastors or volunteer coordinators. Some students view the recommendation as a requirement that carries little weight, while others think it is much more important. It is true that the weight of the recommendation varies depending on the colleges students are considering. In the world of holistic admissions, anything can come into play and a great recommendation can put a student over the top to be admitted. Therefore, students should consider the recommendation an important part of the application process and work just as hard on it as the other application items.

Students should choose a recommendation writer who knows them well. If students are engaged in classes, students should not have a problem finding a teacher who can speak highly of them. However, many students, especially at public schools, will not know their counselors very well. Therefore, students should reach out to counselors early to build a rapport. Students should never ask someone that they just met to write their recommendation because the lack of knowledge someone has about a student will come through in the recommendation. Students never want to have a recommendation sent to a college that says, “I do not have much knowledge about this student.” Although it seems unlikely, colleges receive responses like this every year.

Students should give their recommendation writers much time to prepare their recommendations. Teachers and counselors are busy, especially during the fall when seniors are applying to college. Therefore, it is best to request recommendations as soon as students know they will need them. It is best to schedule a meeting with the recommendation writer to formally ask them to provide the recommendation. Prior to the meeting, students should come prepared with information about the recommendation, deadline information and a brag sheet that gives the recommendation writer further knowledge about the student they may not know. Students should watch their application accounts for confirmation the recommendations were received. If the recommendation has not been received two weeks before the deadline, make sure to give the writer a friendly reminder.

Lastly, students should never forget to thank their recommendation writers. There should a quick thank-you after the recommendation is sent, preferably in writing. Students should also give the recommendation writer updates. For example, if the writer sent a recommendation for college applications, students should let the writer know when college decisions come in, as well as their final decision on the college they will attend. Without the recommendation, the student might not have been as successful. Students should keep this in mind and genuinely thank their recommendation writers throughout the process. Not being appreciative of their work could burn bridges and students never know if or when they will need another recommendation. Therefore, show your appreciation.

By planning and offering support to recommendation writers, students can have glowing reviews sent on their behalf to colleges or scholarship committees. That one recommendation could be the thing tips the scale on the student’s behalf. Therefore, students should view the recommendation just as important as all other items of the application process.

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