Do I Need Letters of Recommendation?

When you apply to college, the admissions officers consider two things: hard factors and soft factors. The hard factors include quantitative numbers, such as your high school GPA, grades, and SAT or ACT scores.

Soft factors are more complex, including aspects such as extracurricular activities, interest in the school, and letters of recommendation from counselors, teachers, and other leaders.

Importance of Soft Factors

While the hard factors are critical, the soft factors round out who you are as a person to give an admissions officer an idea of your interests and personality type. It’s important to get involved in high school, participating in clubs, sports, and other activities outside of the classroom.

When you’re in class, take the time to get to know your teachers and counselors and form relationships. Start thinking about who you might ask to write a letter of recommendation before you finish your junior year. Teachers from your last two years of high school will likely know you better and in different capacities than other teachers.

People to Ask

Some high school students seek letters of recommendation from influential or well-known people in their communities, mistakenly believing that these letters will carry more weight. If the person you’re asking for a letter doesn’t know you personally, it will be evident in the letter. Only request recommendations from people who know you in various capacities, such as in the classroom as well as through clubs or organizations.

If you’re worried about what a teacher or counselor might say, consider asking someone else. Furthermore, you shouldn’t ask to read the letter before someone submits it.

If you volunteer with a church group, ask your youth leader to write a recommendation. Even if that person isn’t the most impressive in your mind, he or she will give more personal insight that means much more to an admissions officer.

Follow School Instructions

Before you start asking every teacher at your high school for a letter of recommendation, look into the college’s policy for submission. Most schools request that students submit one to three letters at most, so if you send in more than that, the admissions officer will remember that you didn’t follow instructions. You could also end up wasting a lot of time and energy on letters that won’t carry any weight in the application process.

Find out how the school wants the letters submitted. Some request that students turn in the letters with their applications, while others have an online system for instant submission.

A letter of recommendation is an important part of your application to your dream college, so take the time to request at least one from a teacher or counselor with whom you have a positive relationship. Teachers don’t have to write letters, so make sure to say thank you to anyone who writes one on your behalf. When you start thinking about letters of recommendation early and request them from your closest teachers and counselors, the process will go much more smoothly.