College-bound seniors have the responsibility for sending complete applications for admission, including college recommendation letters. These are especially important at colleges that are reasonably selective. They have more applications than available seats in either their freshman class or a competitive academic program such as business, engineering or nursing. Some schools may limit your references to teachers, but others might allow you to provide an additional one, as long as you keep the total to a reasonable number. In most cases three will suffice.
There’s all sorts of advice about who to turn to for college recommendation letters, outside of your school counselor. Karla White, a senior admissions counselor at Florida Southern College, shared some of her “likes” when she sees more than one letter of recommendation on a counselors and admissions officers Facebook group that we both belong to. She likes to see recommendations from persons who can address how you work:
- In the classroom—with extra points if it’s your major of interest;
- Outside the classroom —perhaps in a club or sport; or,
- Within your community—some organization that you are involved in outside of school.
Karla’s points are on point. When I was in high school I had classmates who were in band or chorus each year, taking it for credit, and were excellent performers. They earned ‘All Shore’ or ‘All State accolades. Even though most did not intend to major in music they knew the band or choral director better than any other teacher in the high school—and they received a grade from that teacher! However, these were the teachers who knew that student best inside and outside of the classroom. In some cases, the teacher not only noticed their musical talents, but also how they set an example for other students, or showed leadership during overnight trips or fundraising.
But keep in mind that while many teachers and coaches are used to writing college recommendation letters, other persons that might be good references are not. You may need to explain to your reference:
- Why you are interested in a particular school, or scholarship
- How your job or contributions to a volunteer activity relate to your interests
- Deadlines, so that the letter is received on time and placed in the proper place to send with the rest of the application for admission
As Karla covered above, admissions officers like to read college recommendation letters that show that an applicant challenged themselves. Colleges want students who will not only excel in a classroom, they also want students who will be good citizens within their community. A student who gave the time to take their musical talents seriously, and help others to do the same while earning the grades they needed for admission will often be more valued over someone who studied harder while taking on fewer challenges outside of the classroom.
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