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The College Application Letter of Recommendation

We know what you're thinking: the letters of recommendation stage must be the easiest part of applying to college, right? All you've got to do is request a letter of approval from a teacherand have them send it to the school you're looking to attend and sit back while they sing your praises.

Truth be told, it's not that simple. Yes, your letters of recommendation will be the part of your application that receives the least amount of direct attention, but that hardly means you're in the clear. You'll be responsible for a lot of prep work to make sure the process runs smoothly and you get what you need out of the letters.

Choosing References for a Recommendation Letter

Most high school students will have their letters of recommendation written by teachers or counselors. They're the ones who have the most experience writing recommendations, and they'll be most aware of the attributes that colleges like to seerecommendation letters touch on. Testimonials from coaches and employers also play well with college admissions personnel, because these individuals can be advocates for qualities that don't show up in the classroom.

The number of letters schools will request varies by institution, but every school should specify how many letters they'd prefer in their application requirements. Make sure you arrange for the right amount to be sent to each school.

The Letters of Recommendation Process Made Easier 

Once you've chosen your references, the next step is putting the project in their hands effectively.

  • Write up a Cover Letter formally asking for a recommendation.Include all the important details: the school you're applying to, your intended major, the application deadline and any other application requirements they should know about. Attach a stamped envelope, addressed to each school you wish to receive the recommendation, along with the cover letter so that recommender has all the materials he or she may need.
  • Make your request early so that the individuals you request an endorsement from will have plenty of time to handle the task.
  • Put Together a List of Accolades, Distinctions and Achievements that can serve as your high school resume to give to your recommendation writers. Hopefully the individuals you ask will be relatively up to speed on what you've done, but it's best to put it in writing so they have up-to-date information in front of them. This includes passing along a copy of your transcript or report card.

Be appreciative of the individuals you ask to write your letters of recommendation. Write them a thank-you note or drop off a small token of appreciation at their desk. They're doing you a big favor by writing these letters, and you should let them know you value their efforts. 

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