Tips, Tricks, and Timely Information about the Application Process

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Letters of Recommendation

Think Before You Ask!

Your letter should not only recap information that is already revealed through your transcript and brag sheet. It is a strategic tool that should convey new information.

You mean I should not ask my Chemistry teacher for letter? After all, I get a 5 on my Chem AP, I’m president of the Chemistry Club, and won a regional award for my Chemistry project.

That’s exactly what I mean. Those three wonderful data points are already on your application! Unless your Chemistry teacher can share additional concrete information, ask someone else.

So, whom should I ask?

Recommendation letters should highlight your positive traits and, if necessary, reframe perceived negative ones as positives. Ask yourself:
  • How well does the teacher really know you?
  • Did the teacher like you?
  • Is the teacher familiar with your: passion, compassion, quirks, strengths, goals?

Ask Early! Give a Gift!

Gift your teachers the gift of time: time to think, reflect, recall, plan…and then write. You’ll probably receive a gift in return: a compelling letter that will help to convince an admission counselor that you will be an asset to the incoming class.

If you choose carefully and give your teacher generous lead-time (and even some memory joggers about telling anecdotes) you’ll end up with a winning letter!

"Mom, if I need your help, I’ll ask you.”

Months after embarking upon the college application process independently, Christianne Beasley was ready to ask. The request came the day she asked her mom, Nancy to write an optional parental recommendation letter for Smith College.

Wondering why a school would bother reading letters from parents boasting about their kids? Smith's director of admission, Debra Shaver explains that parents often provide just the color needed to enliven and complete a portrait that is painted only with grades, test scores and traditional recommendation letters. In fact, "You might think they do nothing but brag,” she said. "But parents really get to the essence of what their daughter is about in a way we can't get anywhere else.”

Feeling frustrated that the school of your dreams, like most, does not offer this option? Don’t worry. You can still benefit from your parents’ unique insights. Solicit their advice. Ask them tough pointed questions about…you. They might be able to help you pinpoint the exact personal traits you should emphasize in your essay. Remember your essay isn’t only about answering a question. It is a strategic tool to convince your reader that you will be an asset to the incoming class. Your parents, who know you quite well, may be just the perfect people to help you articulate your strategic message. Just ask!

Letter from home brings Smith applicants to life
By JUSTIN POPE | The Associated Press