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Tips for Letters of Recommendation


Posted by on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Vanderbilt’s Benson Hall

It’s that time of year! High school seniors across that nation are diligently working to apply to colleges and universities across the world! While institutions have different applications, processes, and requirements, many require letters of recommendations. Here are some helpful tips as you begin to seek out the counselors, teachers, and other individuals in your academic and personal life to advocate on your behalf:

  • Pick a teacher who likes you. I know that this may seem like a trivial tip, but I think some students forget this! Your academic letters of recommendation do not have to come from the courses in which you received the highest grade or the course where you only received perfect marks on the exams. You can even request a recommendation from the teacher who taught the course that is the lowest grade on your transcript, if that teacher is able to talk about your academic growth through the course. When we select students for each incoming class at Vanderbilt, we are looking for analytical, collaborative, engaging students who can thrive in the academic environment of campus. We appreciate letters of recommendation that help us understand what type of student you are in the classroom. Pick a teacher who knows you well and can praise your academic work.
  • Select additional recommenders carefully. Some institutions have a specific number and type of letters of recommendation that they require for their process, and some allow for you as a student to choose additional letters to be submitted. If you are thinking about having other individuals in your life submit letters on your behalf make sure that they are going to be able to truly speak about you from a different perspective, such as a band director, a football coach, an organization advisor, etc. If you know an alum from the university to which you are applying, this could be a helpful letter as they can speak about your fit to the university. However, your parents, grandparents, or best friends probably are not the best choice for additional recommendation letters.
  • Give your recommenders enough time. If you know that your application is due November 1st, do not wait until the night before or even the week before to ask for a letter. You do not want to put your recommenders in a situation where they do not have enough time to write a thoughtful letter about you and your accomplishments. You deserve more! If you are applying to college this year and haven’t asked your teachers yet, go ask them as soon as possible. For students who will be applying next year, it is a good practice to initially ask your recommenders for letters of recommendations at the beginning of the school year.
  • Create a “brag sheet.” Also known as a resume, this can be very helpful for your recommenders as they begin to draft your letter of recommendation. Make sure to list your academic, extra-curricular, and personal accomplishments so that they can reference this sheet when needed. If one of your recommenders is aware of your community service, but cannot remember the name of the organization, they can refer to your resume for specific details. When reaching out to your recommenders, both inside and outside of your high school, attach your resume to the request.
  • Write a thank you note. A little goes a long way and a simple thank you letter to your recommender is a kind gesture. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate letter, but merely a simple note reminding them that you are grateful for their willingness to advocate on your behalf during this exciting process. It may also help remind them why they like you so much.

The letters of recommendation are one of my favorite parts of the application because they help us as admissions officers understand all of the intangible characteristics that you can bring to the community and to the classroom. If you are a senior and applying to college right now, make sure that you have reached out to your teachers as soon as you finish reading this post. Remember, you want to put your best foot forward through every aspect of your application and that includes your letters of recommendation. Choose wisely and choose boldly! Happy Applying!


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