Letters of Recommendation That Make a Difference (Part Two)

Written by Nell McCormack Abom, Host Smart Talk TV | Oct 7, 2009 9:42 PM

1. Choose teachers who know what you can do—the teachers who push you and don’t let you settle for “good enough.” They are the folks who are more likely to be invested in your long-term success. Contrary to popular belief, your most insightful supporter may not be the teacher regarded as the most popular. Generally speaking, at least one of your recommenders should be someone who is familiar with your critical thinking and communication skills.

2. Give your counselor and teachers the courtesy of time to think about and prepare a letter of recommendation for you. If you are a high school Senior and still have not asked folks to write on your behalf, do it now! Extend the same consideration (time, access to information) you would want if confronted by a writing assignment that accounts for most of your grade in a class.

3.    Talk with your recommenders about why college is important to you. Share your dreams and ambitions. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. If there are factors beyond your control that have influenced your ability to perform as you would have liked, make sure your recommenders are sufficiently informed so they can help you tell your “story.” Give them the necessary information and insight so they can write well-balanced letters on your behalf.

4.    Share a brief resume of your activities and achievements. While your teachers know you well from your work in their respective classrooms, they may not have the benefit of the “big picture that defines you.

5.    Provide a list of your application deadlines and the forms (the appropriate pre-addressed, pre-posted envelopes) used by each of your colleges for letters of recommendation. While your recommenders may elect to use their own forms, they will still benefit by being able to respond to the guidelines and information requests provided by the colleges to which you are applying.

Important note: When you ask someone to write on your behalf, you will be able to waive your right of access to that letter. Do it. Your recommenders need to be able to provide complete and balanced perspectives without having to worry about how you or your parents will react to what they have written. If your recommenders are concerned about being second-guessed in any way, they will be less inclined to share the kind of information that is useful to admission officers in the credential review. Give them some space and trust they will act in your best interests. The people you have chosen for this task are your strongest supporters and want to see you do well.

Peter Van Buskirk is an author, consultant, speaker and creator of the Best College Fit™ Resources. Visit to learn more about Peter and his student-centered approach to college planning.

Published in Life After 12th Grade

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