One of the most important parts of a college application, the letters of recommendation, aren’t even completed by students; the letters are completed by your counselor and typically, two teachers. Most private colleges require one counselor and one or two teacher recommendations. Of the colleges that request letters of recommendation, many consider them to be of “considerable importance” or “moderate importance” in admissions decisions, so students should make sure they ask their teachers early. If your high school junior is having a good year with a teacher, have them ask for the letter now! They’re not due until the fall, but when teachers have more time, they can give the letter more thought.
But what if your student has been learning online this year?
As with many things, disruptions due to COVID-19 have made this standard practice of asking for letters of recommendation a little more complicated. Test-optional policies adopted by colleges and universities in the wake of the pandemic have put more weight on the letters to differentiate the applicant in the absence of test scores. However, online learning means fewer traditional opportunities for students to get to know their teacher and for the teacher to get to know the student.
Whether your junior is learning online or in-person, below are some tips to secure excellent recommendations and maximize their effectiveness.
Choose recommenders wisely. When it comes to choosing whom to ask, students want someone who knows them well enough to write something special about them. The best recommendations provide insight about the student and show knowledge of their high school success. You want someone to write about your child’s talents and abilities in the classroom and more. Make sure to ask a teacher whose class is one where your student has great attendance, actively participates in class, and gets good grades. If learning online, make sure it is a class where your student participates regularly in virtual discussions and activities, and has their camera turned on during live sessions.Further, make certain the recommender is someone who likes your student. Most likely students and parents will never see the letter that is written, so it needs to be from someone the student feels comfortable with.
- Choose someone who teaches a core subject. Some colleges specify that at least one (or all) recommendation letters must be from a teacher in a core subject (math, English, science, history, or world language). If the college does not specify, students should still include at least one core teacher. For any additional letters of recommendation that may be allowed, keep in mind the subjects or activities about which the student is most involved. For example, the editor of the school newspaper may include their journalism teacher as their additional recommender. A coach or other adult mentor may write a supplemental recommendation as well.
- Students: Ask Your Recommender. In the Common Application and Coalition Application, students can just add a teacher’s name as a recommender. Do not do this. Students who attend classes in-person should try to speak privately to their teacher. Asking a teacher directly shows that the child respects the person’s time and opinion and takes this process seriously. If a student is virtual or cannot speak to their teacher in private, they should email their teacher to ask them if they will write the recommendation. Students should only add the teacher’s name to the application once they have agreed to write for them.
- Help the recommender. Once the recommender has said yes, students should make sure to give their recommenders everything they might need to write the letter and submit it on time. This includes the student’s full name, email, phone number, college deadlines, and detailed examples of any accomplishments/ improvements in that teacher’s subject and class. Be careful about sending a recommender a resume. You want the recommender to write about the student’s work and contributions to their class; you don’t want them listing your activities. But if they ask for the resume, make sure to have one ready!
- Follow Up. Remember, recommenders are doing you a favor. Students should show their appreciation by sending a thank-you note or email. A gift card is always welcome, though not required.
International College Counselors will send out another blog in September reminding students to get additional letters of recommendations, such as the one from their counselor. The more time given to a recommender, ideally the more time he or she will have to write something reflective and thorough.
If you have questions on securing letters of recommendation, counselors at ICC can help you and your student. Email your International College Counselors advisor or call 954-414-9986.