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College Recommendations

Brought to you by the American School Counselor Association

Most selective colleges ask their applicants to submit two recommendations from teachers. These can have an important bearing on your chances -? particularly if they are negative. Here are some guidelines that should help you secure better recommendations:

  1. Be Prompt.
    Teachers have too much to do as it is. Writing recommendations takes a lot of time, especially if you attend a big school and the teachers you ask are popular. Give your recommenders plenty of time. (The earlier you are, the less likely your recommenders are to be buried in recommendation forms already.)

  2. Make It Easy for Them.
    When you ask teachers to write recommendations for you, give them everything they need, including your application deadline and a stamped, addressed envelope. Some guidance counselors and books recommend that you also give your recommenders a list of your activities, to remind them what you've been up to the last few years. We don't think this is a good idea. Too many recommenders simply rehash students' accomplishments ?- information that is already in their applications.

  3. Waive Your Rights.
    You have the legal right to read the stuff colleges have in their files about you. Virtually all recommendation forms include a little box where you can waive this right by signing your name. By all means, waive the right. Colleges won't pay attention to your recommendations if they think the people who wrote them were worried that you would be reading them. Sign the waiver before you give the forms to your teachers.

  4. Pick Wisely.
    In general, when choosing recommenders, you should do the following:
    • Pick teachers who know and like you.
    • Pick teachers who will absolutely write positive things about you. This is important enough to discuss openly with your teachers. If you feel uneasy about asking a teacher directly whether he or she will write you a strong recommendation, you can do the same thing indirectly by giving the teacher an out. You might say something like, "I don't want to put you in a spot if you'd prefer not to do this."
    • Pick teachers in fields where your principal interests lie. If you say in your application that you are going to be an English major, at least one of your recommendations should be from an English teacher.
    • Pick teachers who are reliable.This is also a test of your judgment. If a teacher doesn't get your recommendation in on time, you will be the one who looks bad.
    • Pick teachers who are good writers. Nothing is less impressive than a poorly written recommendation.

  5. Send a Thank You Note
    Thanking a recommender is good manners. It's also a polite way to remind a forgetful teacher to get on the stick. Send your thank-you note a week or two before the deadline.

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