Career & Education

5 tips to get the best recommendations for college

Sunday, September 17, 2017

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If you're in upper six, then you should be putting the finishing touches on your college applications. These applications are the culmination of years of hard work, and they need to highlight all your strengths. One of the ways to play up your talents is to submit brilliant college recommendation letters. These illuminate your personality and provide the admissions committee with a more holistic idea of who you are and what drives you.

While your activity list can show that you've spent lots of time volunteering as part of your school's Modern Languages club, the recommendation from your Spanish teacher can tell the admissions committee how patiently you taught other students and how diligent and detail oriented you were when you took responsibility for planning events. In other words, your recommenders give life to your application. Therefore, you should put the same level of care into choosing them as you did choosing your colleges, prepping for the SAT/ACT, and writing your college essay.

Here are a few tips to getting the best college recommendations.


1. Choose Teachers Who Know You Well

While your grades give a good indication of how well you will perform academically at college, the recommendation allows the admissions committee to imagine how you will interact with others on their campus, how you will participate in campus activities, and how you will make their college better with your presence. So, go for the teachers who know you well, rather than those in whose class you did the best.

Generally speaking, teachers and counsellors will not intentionally write a letter that will disadvantage you in the college admissions process, but if they do not know you well enough, then a generic recommendation from which you could remove your name and replace it with another student's name without anyone noticing will do more harm than good to your application.

Ask a teacher who can speak with confidence about the activities that you're involved in and about your strengths, struggles, and personal characteristics. This should be a teacher who can tell stories that express how dedicated, trustworthy and reliable you are without the use of overplayed adjectives.

2. Ask Early

That teacher who has all the stories about you and would probably write you an excellent recommendation based on tip 1 has many other students waiting for a recommendation letter too, so ask early! Aim to be the first student to ask your selected teacher to write a recommendation letter.

No matter how dedicated a teacher is, when a stampede of students begin asking to write recommendation letters last minute they will struggle to keep up. You don't want to be left waiting too long for your recommendation letter because your teacher does not have enough time to write it.


3. Use Recent Recommendations

You grow and mature every year. This means that a recommendation from your fifth form teacher, despite how great you were in her class, might not be the best idea. Your teachers from the previous year have the most up-to-date insight on your classroom behaviour. Also, ensure that you choose a teacher who has taught you for at least one entire year.


4. Create a Document To a ssist Your Recommenders

Your teachers might know you extremely well inside the classroom, but they might not know or remember everything. Make their job easier by providing them with a document that includes helpful questions and answers. This is a résumé of sorts, but it should not be a mundane list. Your activity list is already included in your application; your recommendation should do more than reiterate it. Providing your teacher with a boring list won't inspire them to create an exciting letter.

Colleen Ganjian from DC College Counseling recommends that you create a document of questions and answers for your teacher or counsellor. This should include questions such as “How did the student's presence in class impact the learning experience for the rest of the students?” for your teacher. Provide example answers for these questions.


5. Look For Two-For-One Recommendations

A two-for-one recommendation comes from a teacher who is also an extracurricular advisor or coach. This teacher knows you in multiple contexts and will be able to give even more insight into your personality and ability.

Follow these five quick tips and you will have a winning college recommendation. Good luck!



Nicole McLaren Campbell is the founder and CEO of Aim Educational Services, an independent college admissions counsellor, and public speaker. Contact her at nicole@aimeduservices. com.






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