One of the most frequent questions I get this time of year is how many recommendation letters do I need. Students know that they need one or two teacher recommendations and a guidance counselor recommendation for most colleges. But what they are really asking is, how many extra letters of recommendation do I need.
Almost always the answer is none.
Let’s look at this from the college’s viewpoint. Colleges use letters of recommendation as one part of the application where they hope to get to know something about you outside your grades, test scores and list of activities. Who are you as a real person?
While letters of recommendation can be good for telling colleges what you are like as a person, they don’t need to hear from everybody that knows you that you are a good kid and a hard worker. Most teachers will have spent enough time with you to know what you are like as a student, and to some extent, what you are like as a person.
Getting that information from the teacher is sufficient for most colleges. They don’t need your research mentor or the volunteer coordinator where you volunteer to tell them the same thing. More here is not better.
Moreover, colleges control their own applications and even the common app is controlled by the member colleges. If colleges wanted more recommendation letters do you think there is anything from stopping them from asking?
The revised common app is confusing some students because some colleges say they require 2 recommendations for example but will accept 4. Doesn’t that mean they really want 4? No it does not. What is means is if you truly know of someone that can write a letter of recommendation that will tell the college something about you that they don’t already know from the other recommendation letters, then they will accept, at most, 2 extra.This is actually an attempt by the colleges to limit the number of extra letters of recommendations some students send.
There is a saying in colleges admissions, the thicker the file the thicker the kid. In plain language, most students that feel the need to send in extra letters of recommendation are usually those that don’t have the grades, test scores or background to be admitted in the first place.
Don’t be that kid. If you truly have someone other than a teacher than can write a letter of recommendation that will help the college know you, then by all means submit that letter. But only do so if they are adding something that the college doesn’t already know.