Welcome to my blog post about letters of recommendation—I recommend that you keep reading if you’d like to hear some tips, tricks, and personal reflections on the process!
When I was in your shoes and filling out college applications, I feared the letters of recommendation. It was something I could not micromanage excessively, and I would not know their contents ahead of time. It meant forfeiting control over a piece of my application...*gasps*!
If you’re at all like seventeen-year-old me and the letters of recommendation send you into a panic, rest assured that it turns out alright and they are nothing to fear! Here are some tips for asking, and preparing, your recommenders to write you an informative letter of recommendation.
DO pick someone who knows the true you!
Yes I know, you are probably reading this and giving my words the side-eye. You’re thinking to yourself, well obviously I’m going to ask a teacher I know and like, what kind of advice is that? I am stating the obvious because it can be hard to resist the pull of an A+ or an impressive course title. However, we aren’t necessarily looking for your recommendation letters to come from the class you received the highest grade in. Olin is a bit different from the typical engineering program. We are looking for students who are curious and passionate, students who are willing to take academic risks, and students who see collaboration as key to positive change. The best letters of recommendation are going to come from teachers who know the authentic you. They will be the ones most able to show what makes you unique as an applicant and compatible with the Olin community.
DO ask your recommender nicely and with plenty of advance notice!
At peak times in the college admission cycle, high school teachers are often fulfilling multiple requests for letters of recommendation. Be courteous and sympathetic towards their hectic schedules, and give your recommenders ample notice and time to complete your letter before the deadline. By doing so you are giving your recommender more time to write a clear and thoughtful letter about you. Additionally, your teachers are human too, and it’s important to treat them as such!
DO give your recommenders context about your college list!
You can (and should!) talk to your recommenders about the programs you’re applying to and why you love them. This helps them better communicate your genuine interest in the school and helps them demonstrate how you align with that educational model and vision. This piece of advice can be particularly applied to college or school counselors, not just teachers. Most colleges, Olin included, require a letter of recommendation from your college or school counselor. Often these counselors are assigned to you and are managing large caseloads of students that they are tasked with writing letters for. Be as proactive as possible in developing a relationship with your counselor. Talk to them earnestly about the colleges you are interested in, why you like them, and how these schools can help you achieve your goals. And once again, ask for things nicely and thank your recommenders warmly.
DON’T assume that more is merrier!
It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that sending additional recommendations will help your application. This sort of thinking is like when you make chocolate chip cookies and add triple the amount of suggested chocolate chips because more is better, right? Though more may be better for chocolate chips, the same does not always apply in college admission. Our admission process is highly intentional, meaning that we ask for each part of the application thoughtfully and with a purpose. Sending additional recommendations (beyond the two teacher letters and one counselor letter we require) is only helpful if it adds a unique dimension to your application that cannot be seen anywhere else.
So with these tips in mind, keep calm, carry on, and thank your wonderful recommenders!