The Do’s and Don’ts to College Application Recommendations

Letters of recommendation, this seemingly unassuming trifecta of words strikes fear into students of all ages.

One thought that might cross student's minds are: "Who will vouch for me with their words? Words that posses the power to make or break my application,Words I cannot edit."

A letter of recommendation allows college admissions committees to see a student’s character, tenacity, and overall potential (as seen through the eyes of a professional). Therefore, they can make a big difference for a student who has less-than-exciting transcripts to share. Think of the letter of recommendation as the Lawry's to the application steak.

While not all schools require letters of recommendation, they are still omnipresent in the application process. This addition to the application is the number one place where students wait to the last minute. Which brings us to our first DO.


DO: Have your child ask their teachers over a month in advance from the date you wish to submit your applications.

Teachers are busy, busy people. They will most likely be writing more than one recommendation in a given year. Add this to the fact that teachers do also have families and social lives of their own, you want to give them the time needed to write a proper letter of recommendation! Believe it or not, teachers (hopefully) want to spend adequate time on the letter of recommendation to ensure they make your child look like a superstar student.

Urge your child to approach their teacher, coach or administrative professional of choice a minimum of one and a maximum of four months prior to submitting your applications. For teachers that you know aren’t always on the ball, the latter might be more appropriate.

DON’T: Have your child ask a teacher who barely knows them.

You want these letters to offer insight into your child's character, not to make them look like another face in the crowd. Imagine all the cookie-cutter responses application commitees have read, and that's exactly what you'll get if your story isn't passionate and unique. 

Encourage your child to ask teachers for a recommendation that have either seen them excel in their classroom, or ones that have seen their growth in sports or extracurriculars. If they can speak to your child's ability to excell, overcome challenges, and grow, or take on various roles, then those teachers are the ones to approach.

DO: Make sure they waive their rights to see the letters in the Common Application.

Once they click that box they cannot change their mind. Colleges see this as a more honest application. If the right teacher was chosen, your child shouldn’t need to see what the teacher wrote anyway. They should be confident that their teacher won't throw them under the (school) bus.

DON’T: Expect a teacher to remember everything about your child.

High school teachers can work with up to 150 students a year. Even if your child was the teacher's pet in Mrs. Jackson's biology class, you can't count on her to remember how they did on that one project their sophomore year.



DO: Have your child schedule a meeting with their chosen teacher

In this meeting, your child should:

Explain their overall academic performance. If it wasn't great early on, they should make it into a success story. By the way, people love stories, especially ones about an underdog.
Elucidate on their extracurricular activities (i.e. a job, athletic performances, offices held in clubs)

 Explain why they want to go to college or why they want to study their chosen field (if you know what that is)

 Discuss what they hope to gain from their college experience

DO: Encourage your child to start the Common Application early.

The Common Application does not need to be finished in one sitting. Your child should start it off so that they can make it possible for teachers to upload their letter. This way your child can stay on top of the process.

DON'T: Nag teachers into finishing the letter.

Make sure your child gives their teacher time and maybe a gentle reminder after a few weeks. Teachers aren't printers! Remember, their lives don’t revolve around just your child, and it's your child's fault if they asked their teacher last minute.

Which brings us back full circle...


You know how angry and frustrated you get when you have something really important to finish and you don’t have enough time? Imagine putting that frustration on someone else. Plan ahead!

Not sure what to do next? Chicago Academic can help your child with their college essays. Pleaseclick here for help!

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Topics: college admissions, High school, College Essay Coaching, College Applications, college, Learning, prepared, letters of recommendation

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