How Important Are Recommendation Letters for College in College Admissions?

You’re working on your GPA, you’ve studied hard for tests, you’re brainstorming for a balanced college list…What’s your next step on the path to the college of your dreams? Well, next, you have to secure good letters of recommendation from your teachers! Here is Cardinal Education’s advice on the importance of recommendation letters, and how you can best request them.

College Admission Letters of Recommendation are Very Important

Many students don’t put as much emphasis on the letters of rec as they should. Great grades and test scores will cinch the deal for them, right? Wrong! The purpose of a college application is to give admissions officers as complete of a picture of you as possible. Within that picture, the letter of rec from a teacher shows who you are in the classroom. It also allows the teacher to vouch for the interests and good personal qualities that you display in your essays. Moreover, teachers will say great things about you that you can’t say yourself. You might be one of the top 5 students that a teacher has ever had, but it would be awfully awkward of you to make that claim!

So, Who Do I Pick to Write My Letter?

After understanding why these letters are vitally important, you need to find the best possible people to write them for you. To do so:

  1. First, think about the recent classes (11th or 12th grade) in which you got the best grades; ideally, these classes are also the teachers that know you best on a personal level. Prioritize the more advanced classes, such as honors or AP.
  2. Pick out the teachers who you made the best impressions on academically and personally, by not only getting A’s in their classes, but also through class participation. If you’re wondering what sort of impression you made on your teacher, first ask yourself: Do you remember any good moments you had with them, in class or outside? If you don’t, neither will they.
  3. If you need to narrow it down from there, pick a teacher who has seen you in action outside the classroom, such as through extracurriculars.

Brainstorm until you have 2-3 possible recommenders, but not more. Most colleges will ask for 2 recommenders, with some asking for 3; usually, 3 recommendation letters is a good number to send to schools. Do not send more than that, as this will come across as a nuisance to colleges rather than impressing them.

How Do I Request a College Recommendation Letter?

Now it’s time to reach out formally to your teacher through a cover letter, to request a letter of recommendation for your college application. Tell them why you have been interested in their class and what they mean to you as a person, and if possible, how it’s relevant to your planned future studies in college. If they say no or seem hesitant, don’t try to force it. This may lead to them producing a mediocre or even bad recommendation letter–which, again, can actively hurt your application. If they say yes, send them additional information about your class participation that highlights the accomplishments that you want mentioned in your letter of rec. Some things you might want to include in your 1-page cover letter are:

  1. Why you are interested in their class
  2. What they and their class have meant to you as a person
  3. How their class relates to your life goals, if relevant. (If you’re not a science person, no need to pretend to an AP Chemistry recommender that you secretly want to be a scientist!)
  4. Your favorite moments and assignments in their class
  5. Any struggles you might have had, how you overcame them, and how your teacher helped
  6. Your current triumphs in extracurriculars and in class

So, remember: choose wisely, ask eloquently, give all necessary information, and do the same for every teacher you consider. Now that you know these three steps, you’re one big step closer to reaching your #1 choice!

A good time to ask for college recommendation letters is during the summer. Click here for more advice on how to use your summer effectively.