July 2006 Newsletter
At most of the highly selective colleges, you will be required to have three letters of recommendation: one from your guidance counselor and two from core course teachers preferably from your junior year of high school. However, since some colleges have different guidelines, make sure you read the instructions on the application before you choose the persons who will write the recommendations.
An academic teacher when writing a letter of recommendation should not mention your extracurricular activities since that’s already listed on your activity sheet. Instead, the teacher should focus on your academic qualities and personal character. Since most people need time to craft a thoughtful and articulate letter, make sure that you give your teachers and counselor enough time to accomplish this. Since some teachers prefer to write these letters over the summer, a good time to ask teachers for recommendations is in the spring of your junior year. At the beginning of your senior year, (or at least a month prior to your first application’s deadline) you can then gently remind them of any due dates and at the same time hand them the college’s evaluation forms.
A powerful teacher letter of recommendation is going to depend upon how much you have impressed your teachers. As you progress through your school year, work diligently in your classes, pay attention in class 100% of the time, do all of your homework, submit all papers or projects on time, ask insightful questions in class, stay for extra-help when you need it, help out your classmates, be an active participant in your learning environment, exceed all of your teachers’ expectations, and above all, prove to your teachers that for you learning is fun and exciting. When thinking about a specific teacher to ask it is important that you understand that if you’re basically a ‘B’ student, you don’t have to choose the teacher of the class where you earned an ‘A.’ In fact, a letter from a teacher where you earned a ‘C’ may have more relevance, especially if that teacher thinks that you put forth your very best effort. My best advice is to choose your teachers wisely.
A great letter not only depends on how well the teacher knows you, but how much he or she knows what admissions counselors are looking for in a letter. Writing a powerful letter of recommendation takes talent and very few teachers have the ability to do this well. Don’t assume that just because you ask your English teacher to write a letter for you that you will have an outstanding one. I’ve read mediocre letters written by English teachers and dynamic letters written by physics teachers.
A powerful counselor letter of recommendation is going to depend upon how much your counselor knows about you. This letter is of major significance yet your counselor may not even know your name. If you are like many high school students, you may be only casually acquainted with your guidance counselor, having had only a few brief conferences about course selection or scheduling. If you feel that you don’t know your guidance counselor, and that your guidance counselor doesn’t know you, you need to work at establishing a relationship. Make an appointment to see your counselor, or stop in to visit during your lunch period. Talk about your courses, your extra-curricular activities, your life, what your future goals may be, what you value and what’s important to you. Don’t be afraid to make friends with your counselor for he or she can turn out to be one of your best friends.
Although this should be obvious, once you have your letters of recommendation, don’t forget to write a thank-you note to those who wrote them, and make sure you keep them updated on your college acceptances.
Wishing you good luck in this process,
Director of The Ivy Coach