Every year I have one or two students that want to send lots of recommendation letters with their college applications. The reasoning is that when applying to selective colleges you need to distinguish yourself and what better way than to send recommendation letters from lots of people.
It is true that it is helpful to distinguish yourself. The way to do that, however, is not with the use of a ton of recommendations. In fact, this is the type of move that will get you noticed but in a negative way.
Colleges know what they want from students to make the admissions decisions. Give them what they ask for and do so in a manner that highlights the strongest you.
If a college asks for two teacher recommendations, then most students should give them exactly that: two teacher recommendations.
There are of course exceptions to every rule. If you are involved in a particular activity that would be enhanced by a recommendation from someone who knows your extensive involvement that may be acceptable. But, before sending an additional recommendation like this, ask yourself, what does this letter add to my application that the reader doesn’t already know. If someone is going to say you are a good kid or a hard worker, do you really need that additional recommendation? Probably not.
If you do think another recommendation will help, do not send a recommendation from someone who does not know you well. For instance, a recommendation from your dad’s buddy who went to the college 30 years ago and who will talk about what a great guy your dad is, will not help. It is the rare case where any alumni recommendation will help you in the admissions process.
When deciding whether to send in a recommendation that isn’t requested from the college, keep in mind the old saying in the admissions world: The thicker the file, the thicker the kid. In plain language, a bigger admissions file is not necessarily a good thing.
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