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Letters of Recommendation

Posted by on Wednesday, September 22, 2010 in Application Process.

One night last year I was pouring over Sam’s application for admission to Vanderbilt. In terms of Vanderbilt’s applicant pool, he was fairly average. Solid academic achievement with test scores in the 90th percentile, but nothing about the numbers jumped out at me as extraordinary. I don’t remember Sam’s essay, but I’m sure it was good if not unusually creative. However, as I flipped to the back of the file my eyes landed on his first letter of recommendation. In the letter his physics teacher said, “If Sam would have been around 2000 years ago and Joseph and Mary needed a sitter for baby Jesus, they’d hire Sam. You just trust him implicitly.” Woah. That’s the type of statement that makes me do a double take. The letter went on to sing Sam’s praises both in and out of the classroom. The essence of the letter was this is one student you need to have on your campus. Prior to reading his letters of recommendation I intended to advocate that Sam be placed on our waitlist. Sam received an offer of admission, though, in no small part due to the overwhelming support proffered in his letters of recommendation. As exemplified by Sam’s situation, these recommendations can make a significant impact in our admissions process.

We ask for two letters of recommendation from teachers in core subject areas (math, history, English, foreign language, etc.) and one letter from a school counselor. We are looking for these letters to humanize you and to tell us something we can’t find out through your transcripts and test scores.

General Tips

  • Ask teachers who truly like you; it should be obvious whether or not your have a rapport with someone or not, trust your gut
  • Give teachers plenty of time (at least 2 weeks) to write a great letter
  • Provide each recommender with your resume and a list of the schools you’ve chosen to apply to; have a conversation with them about what kinds of experiences you’re looking forward to in college
  • You may submit supplemental letters of recommendation from someone such as an employer, a coach, or a pastor/priest/rabbi; do not submit more than two supplemental letters
  • Send your recommenders a written thank you note; a great letter takes time and they do not have to do this for you


In your letters I am looking for recommenders to D.I.S.H about you: Details, Intangibles, School Fit, and High School Context.

  • Details: story snippets, anecdotes, memories the recommender has of you as a student
  • Intangibles: immeasurable personal qualities such as attitude in class, independent judgment, contributions to discussion, perseverance, reaction to setbacks or criticism, creativity, maturity, confidence, interest in sharing ideas, willingness to take intellectual risks, curiosity, level of engagement, or obstacles overcome
  • School Fit: does the recommender see a good fit between who you are in their classroom and who you would be on the Vanderbilt campus?
  • High School Context: comparison to peers (both academic and intangible comparisons)

These hints and suggestions above are from my personal experiences, but in no way prescriptive for every student.

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  • Lynne McConnell

    September 23rd, 2010

    Thank you for the advisement you provide for both teachers and counselors. For me, a college counselor at a public high school, it both confirms and reminds me of the purpose and direction I intend my letters of recommendation to take.

    I will share it with my colleagues.

  • guest

    November 7th, 2011

    What address should the letters be mailed to?

  • Ryan Burleson

    November 14th, 2011

    Letters should be mailed to 2305 West End Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee, 37203. They can also be faxed to 615-343-7765.

  • guest

    December 12th, 2011

    Is there a particular form that should be used? Or is the letter of recommendation simply written as just that — a letter?

  • Ryan Burleson

    December 13th, 2011

    Thanks for your question. We’ve actually dedicated a whole page to this question (! Please let me know if you need anything else.

  • Scott D Hann

    March 11th, 2014

    That page no longer exists.

  • Jay Watson

    March 11th, 2014

    Hi Scott. Yes, our website has gone through some changes since this comment was posted. You can now find information on letters of recommendation at Thanks!

  • Lfyounger

    January 11th, 2012

    Where do we send letters of recommendations?

  • Ryan Burleson

    January 12th, 2012

    Thanks for your question. If you’re a teacher, you will submit your letter of recommendation through the Common App website. Otherwise, simply mail your letter to our office:

    2305 West End Avenue
    Nashville, TN 37203

  • Guest

    December 6th, 2012

    Can the two teacher recommendations be sent in along with a third supplemental letter that is also a teacher?

  • Carolyn Pippen

    December 7th, 2012

    Certainly! While we only require two teacher recommendations, you are welcome to send a supplemental letter, if you feel it will add unique value to your application. Keep in mind, however, that submitting an additional letter will not give you an automatic “leg up” in the process.

  • scott talley

    December 19th, 2012

    Thank you for the information. Is there a specific date the letters should be sent or received by? I am applying regular decision and would like to give my teachers a “heads-up”

  • Carolyn Pippen

    December 20th, 2012

    Recommendations letters, along with all other application pieces, should be mailed by January 3.

  • April Boyd

    October 23rd, 2013

    If I’m applying ED what is the deadline for the letters of recommendation?

  • Jay Watson

    October 24th, 2013

    April, November 1 is the ED deadline for the completed Common Application and all required materials including the letters of recommendation.

  • guest

    October 27th, 2013

    ED: If I were to fax my letter of recs, is there a preferred format? A cover sheet? If so, what should be included?

  • Jay Watson

    October 28th, 2013

    Thank you for asking. We prefer that you submit your letters of recommendation through the Common Application online. If you fax them, please use a cover sheet with the name of the applicant clearly marked and send them to 615.343.7765.

  • Thalia

    October 16th, 2014

    What should accompany a mailed letter of recommendation, on the link listed below it says if a school has a form that can accompany it, but it does not state if the school does not have one. Should my recommender just clearly display my name full name on the letter?

  • Jay Watson

    October 17th, 2014

    Hi Thalia,

    We would prefer for your letters of recommendation to come through the Common Application or Universal College Application (depending on which method you’ve chosen to apply through). If you must mail your letters, please have your recommender use your name as it appears on your application so that we can match the recommendation to your file (wouldn’t hurt to include date of birth and home address, too, for that same purpose).

    Thanks for your interest in Vanderbilt – let me know if I can answer any other questions for you.

  • Karista

    July 13th, 2015

    Is a Macroeconomics and Microeconomics teacher an acceptable source for a recommendation? I’m uncertain to whether this fits under the core subject area.