How To Get The Very Best College Recommendations

Like the application essays, the best recommendations tell the reader things that she or he can’t glean from other parts of your application. Most teachers and guidance counselors write about a student’s academic performance, participation in class, or rehash the list of activities and awards.  These are all good but not really what the admissions office is looking for.

Reading your application and transcript shows how much you have challenged yourself by taking the most advanced classes available that you can do reasonably well in.  Your grades for each class are listed.You’ve filled in your activities and probably written a paragraph about one of them.

What else can recommenders say?  Recommendations should tell stories that illustrate who you are.  Here are a few examples:

Are you persistent?  Is there a story about coming in for help after school before tests?

Do you learn from failure?  Were you able to turn a D in Chem into a B by studying more efficiently or finding an NHS tutor?

Have you been kind? How about the times when you helped a classmate who was struggling or told someone to bug off when a classmate was being bullied?

What are your goals?  Have you told your German teacher that learning to speak German has inspired you to take a semester abroad in Germany?

You can get exceptional recommendations by spending time talking to teachers or coaches.  The more they get to know you, the better the stories they can tell.  Ask for a recommendation from the advisor to the drama club or a history teacher you’ve had more than once.

When you write the note asking teachers to write letters for you, put in reminders about the stories they can tell. “Miss Lewis, I’m asking you to write this letter of recommendation because you know how much I struggled to get a good grade in English last year.  You were kind enough to talk to me many afternoons after school when you helped me understand poetry and to come to like some poets.” ( Shows persistence and curiosity).

Getting excellent recommendations isn’t hard, it just take some thought and preparation.  NB:  Don’t forget the thank you note after you’ve checked to be sure the letter has been put in your file in the guidance office!

For students who are in 9th -11th grade, use these hints to begin developing relationships with potential recommenders.  Rising seniors, you need to plan who to ask and how to ask them.

If you need more help preparing notes to teachers or guidance counselors, lets spend a few minutes finding your best sources.  610-212-6679 or

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