Colleges request letters of recommendation as part of the application package because they want to know what contributions you can make to the college and any special circumstances. In this blog I answer the most common questions I get asked about recommendation letters.
Who should my letter come from?
When applying to institutions of higher education, letters of recommendation should come from individuals who are able to speak on behalf of your qualifications, accomplishments, and anything else that may be important for the college or university to know. These spokespeople may be family members, but some colleges prefer such letters from a homeschool teacher, counselor, club advisor, volunteer coordinator, employer, or mentor, ideally on letterhead that identifies the writer’s affiliation. While you (the student) cannot discuss extenuating circumstances, such as a divorce, homelessness, or mental health issue a teacher, coach or mentor could easily discuss these issues and how it might have affected your grades, activities, or class choices. In high school, it is important to build relationships with individuals who can speak highly of a student’s achievements and background.
When should I ask my recommender to write my letter?
Recommenders may have busy schedules, so it is advisable to ask for a letter of recommendation at least three weeks in advance of the deadline. In addition, be sure to send a thank-you note to the recommender after he or she has submitted the letter. Educators must advocate for the student and at the same time present those students honestly to college admission committees. This means highlighting students’ strengths and being honest about their weaknesses and struggles. Teachers are also overburdened and lack time to compose extensive reference letters and thus rely on student brag sheets.
What do I need to give my recommender before they get started?
Students should give a copy of their resumes to recommenders and highlight any activity, academic success and/or character trait to be recognized. Do not expect your teacher, coach, employer, or pastor to remember what you want emphasized on their recommendation. Provide them with a printed (not handwritten) sheet of your accomplishments.
The Bottom Line: Do not write the recommendation for them but do provide enough information to make it easy for them to compose the letter.
I'm Homeschooled. How can I make this work?
Homeschool students will find recommenders in their home-school cooperatives, community, church, online classes, home-school groups, sports teams, if applicable AP, CLEP or community college instructors. Recommendations are critical for homeschool students because college admission officers want to know what other adults, besides your parents, think about your work ethic, character, and scholastic aptitude. These recommendations must stand out and allow your application to fly over the fray of the crowd
Looking for more advice on college-prep? Here's what you need to know about College Admission Decisions—before you apply.
Professor Cheryl Carter is a professor, freelance writer, and prolific author.