Picking your recommenders should not be rocket science, or is it? Well, not really if you pay attention to these small tips… The rule of thumb is to select two teachers who know you well and who, preferably, have taught you in junior year because teachers from previous years might not remember you in detail, and the teachers in senior year will not have had a chance to know you for a full year by the time the recommendation letters are written. It is best to ask each teacher face-to-face if s/he would be willing to write a recommendation letter for you. This should preferably be done at the end of junior year because teachers get booked early on during senior year and might not have time due to the enormous number of recommendation letters that they are asked to write. However, after the COVID-19 outbreak, you probably didn’t get a chance to do any of that. No worries… You still have time to send out a kind email to your potential recommenders and ask if they would be able to write a letter for you.
In the aftermath of COVID-19, challenges facing college admissions have made it difficult (if not impossible) for many students to submit standardized test scores. With many high schools switching to a Pass/Fail grading system, the GPA will not be portraying a student’s academic progress as accurately as it should. This all means that the letters of recommendation will play a more crucial role in admission decisions than ever. This further means that you need to do your homework and do lots of research before you submit any recommendation letters to your colleges because you don’t want to jeopardize your chances.
Every college has a different number of recommendation letters they require, so you need to check with each college’s policy before you can decide how many letters you will need. You will often find that many of your colleges will ask you to submit two letters of recommendation from core subject areas (such as English, Math, Science, History, and World Languages) and one letter of recommendation written by your high school guidance counselor, also known as the “counselor evaluation.” That is why you need to have a close relationship with your high school counselor as soon as you step foot in high school as early as ninth grade so that by the time you are a senior, your counselor will have known a good amount of valuable information about you to write in that letter. Keep in mind that teachers and high school counselors almost always tend to give information about your academic achievements in those letters, overlooking some personal qualities that might be valuable for colleges. In this case, I would highly recommend that you ask one of your recommenders to write what we call a “character essay”, which will mainly focus on your personality to round up your application.
At the beginning of senior year, you need to remind your recommenders about the deadlines and hand in your “brag sheet” or “resume” so that your teachers can get to know you better outside of the class. Also, if the recommender happens to be an English or History teacher, submitting a past assignment that was graded and that the teacher loved would be a great idea just to refresh her/his memory about your past performance in her/his class.
Finally, it would be a good idea to set a personal deadline to check on the application portal or Common App to see if all the recommendation letters have been submitted well before the actual deadline. After you make sure that all of your recommendation letters are sent, remember to write a “thank you” card or send a sweet email to each of your recommenders, thanking them for their time. Keep in mind that a good-old hand-written card is always the best to add a personal touch of gratitude!
Here at EdMission Possible, we believe that recommendation letters are usually seen as a confirmation of an applicant’s qualifications which will help close the deal. Therefore, it is very important that you know whom to ask and how to ask for such letters because a good recommendation letter could contribute to a desirable admission outcome, whereas a poorly-written one might jeopardize it.
Good luck with your hunt for recommendations!
Burcak Deniz Cakir
Independent Educational Consultant, Founder, and President | EdMission Possible
Burcak Deniz Cakir has a B.A. in Foreign Language Education, an M.A. in English Language Teaching, and an M.B.A., all of which have laid the solid foundation for her professional experiences as an educator. She has completed the College Counseling Program at UCLA, which is known to be the most prestigious certificate program in the profession. She has previously taught English as a Foreign/Second Language (EFL/ESL) in Turkey and in the U.S. at Virginia Tech, Harcum College, Rutgers University (Newark and New Brunswick Campuses), and Pace University. Having taught EFL/ESL at the college level for over 20 years, Burcak can communicate effectively with college-age students from different countries. She is bilingual in Turkish and English. Her extensive experience with international students from many countries including but not limited to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Korea, and China has given her the opportunity to understand their unique problems that domestic students may not be facing throughout the college admissions process, such as but not limited to extra testing requirements (TOEFL, IELTS), the translation of high school transcripts and recommendation letters, different financial forms and statements required, visa issues, being homesick, culture shock, etc.
Burcak is an Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and a Voting Member of the International Association for College Admission Counseling (IACAC). She currently lives in Edison, New Jersey with her husband, two daughters, and her four-legged son. In her free time, she can be found spending time with her family, reading (lots!) about college admissions and college essays, watching her favorite movies, getting lost in design magazines, and decorating her house.