Most colleges require at least one recommendation from a school official. Most schools also will require 2 letters of support from faculty members. The two main criteria in a recommendation letter are that the writer knows you well and can add information otherwise not included to your file. A description of each type of recommendation follows including guidelines to help with their completion.
Recommendation forms often have a place for applicants to indicate whether they are willing to give up or “waive” their right to review the recommendation at some time in the future (whether admitted or not). Generally speaking, recommendation writers feel more comfortable writing a recommendation where the student has waived her or his right to read the recommendation – this is true even though students select teachers who have positive things to say about them.
School Report (Counselor Recommendation)
The counselor recommendation (often requested as part of the Secondary School Report Form in applications) is intended to describe the applicant from a “whole school” perspective. Your counselor will complete a form evaluating you and your course selection compared with other students at your high school. The more information the counselors have about you, the more informative the report. Counselors aim to portray strengths, both academic and personal, and to bring the student to life in a distinctive way. Get to know your counselors!
The purpose of teacher recommendations is to provide information about you as a student in a particular class. Sometimes colleges will ask that teachers of a specific subject area write your recommendation. Often, however, you choose who will write for you. The person you choose should know you well. Typically, a student chooses a junior and/or senior-year teacher who knows his work well and who may know him outside of class. The more insight a teacher has into you as a student and a person, the better your recommendation will be and the more likely it is that it will work for you in the process. Also, if a student is applying early decision or has identified a school as a true first choice, both student and recommender will be well served by discussing why, specifically, the school is a match.
It is crucial that the student be considerate of teachers in the application process. A teacher should first be asked if he would write such a letter-he should not be handed the recommendation form at the time the request is made. The student should give the teacher plenty of time (ideally at least one month) to write, and should provide the teacher with a large envelope containing all necessary forms, with each form accompanied by a stamped, addressed, business-sized envelope and a list of the schools and deadlines. Each form’s due-date should be made absolutely clear. It is also helpful if the student provide each teacher a brief resume of the student’s accomplishments. This may enable the teacher to better address some of the questions on the recommendation form.
The student should inform the teacher of his college news in the month of April, and should thank the teacher long before results are in.
Some people want to provide more recommendations than requested by the college. Before doing more recommendations than requested, remember that most admissions offices are deluged with mail and in most cases do not want more recommendations than requested. If there is a compelling reason to have another recommendation choose someone who will add points not covered by other aspects of your application. Forms will almost never be provided for this type of letter, but one should provide the writer with stamped, addressed enveloped for the colleges and a social security number for identification purposes.