This post was written by one of AdmissionsCheckup’s former admissions officers.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could write your own letter of recommendation to college? What would you include? You would probably take some time to mention your best personal qualities and include a handful of anecdotes that demonstrate why any college campus would be lucky to have you as a member of their freshman class. You would not forget a single accomplishment, award, or extracurricular activity. Your letter would be submitted well before the deadline and there would not be a single grammatical error on the page. Everything would be perfect.
Unfortunately, colleges will not put a lot of merit in a letter of recommendation that you created yourself. However, there are some things you can do to make sure that your letter turns out as powerful as if you had written it.
Before asking for letters, ask yourself these three questions:
Will this person have nice things to say about me?
When thinking about recommenders, your number one goal is to find someone who is genuinely excited to write about you as both a student and a person. There is a huge difference between letters written with enthusiasm and letters that are written because a teacher felt like they could not say no.
Think carefully about what you think they may write. If you are nervous that the person writing your letter may include unflattering things about you, it may be worth rethinking if he/she is the best person to write on your behalf.
Does this person know me well enough to write a great letter?
Which of your teachers will have the most interesting perspective to share with the admissions committee? Colleges will have a copy of your official transcripts, so a recommendation is an opportunity to share information deeper than your final grades. It is okay to ask your favorite teachers, even if you had difficulties with their course. If a teacher is able to write about your strong work ethic, determination, creativity, or desirable personality traits; that is a foundation to a great letter. Some of the best letters of recommendation come from teachers who are able to speak of the student personally, even if the student struggled in their class.
Many schools have forms for seniors to fill out and provide their recommenders. These forms give you an opportunity to remind teachers of your commitments outside of school, unique circumstances that may have made an impact on your academic performance, and your future plans. Take the time to fill these out thoroughly.
Have I given my recommender enough time to write a quality letter?
You may be able to write your English paper in half an hour the morning that it is due, but it probably wouldn’t be as good as if you took the time to brainstorm, write, and edit it to perfection. Your teachers also need time to write you a quality letter so give them as much notice as possible. You may even want to give them a resume or your Common Application Activities list. It is a good idea to think about your recommendations before the end of junior year, so that teachers will have plenty of time to write you a great letter before the rush of fall deadlines.
The letter of recommendation may feel like the easiest part of your application because it is the only part that you do not have to physically create yourself. However, they also can feel nerve-wracking because you are unable to personally proofread before submitting to colleges. Although you can’t write your own letter of recommendation, with a little thought and effort, you can make sure that your letter will be a powerful addition to your application.