Letters of Recommendation
Most colleges require at least one recommendation from a school official, and many require more than that. The “school recommendation” is written by your college counselors. Additional recommendations usually need to be from teachers at EPS. In addition, letters may be sought from current or former employers, church or other civic organization leaders, or even alumni of the particular college. The two main criteria in a useful letter are that the writer knows you well and can add information otherwise not included to your file. Recommendation writers know you well enough to be able to highlight your strengths. A description of each type of recommendation follows including guidelines to help with their completion.
The counselor recommendation is intended to describe the applicant from a “whole-school” perspective. Your counselor will write a one-to-two page narrative describing your accomplishments and role in the Eastside Prep community. This letter will be composed during the fall and depends on contributions from many people, most importantly the information requested directly from the student via the Junior Questionnaire, to be completed in the winter of junior year. Counselor recommendations are each written from a point of advocacy for the student but only can be well supported with the student’s assistance and cooperation.
Many colleges require additional letters from teachers. The purpose of these letters is to describe you as a student, and specifically how you perform and contribute to the classroom environment. Colleges read these letters to understand who you are in the classroom – not for holistic knowledge of you as a person.
Consider carefully which teachers (generally limited to 11th or 12th grade) best know you as a student. A good teacher recommendation need not come from the course in which you received your highest marks. Teachers who have seen your best effort and can vouch for your abilities and attitude in the classroom are the best choices to write for you.
When you have identified TWO teachers who will write on your behalf, approach each before October 1 of your senior year and ask politely if they would be willing to do this for you. If they agree, give them an idea of when you will be submitting your applications and explain that you will follow this conversation with written details. Once a teacher agrees you need to formally designate and invite them in Naviance so that they can submit your recommendation directly through the online system.
As stated above, there are numerous sources for other letters to support your application, though in many cases schools want only teacher and counselor recommendations. Those who know you in a context other than academics may be able to add significantly to the “picture” being created in your application. Be mindful of two key thoughts in assembling these letters: (1) additional letters beyond the counselor/teacher letters are not essential, and (2) quality is of far more importance than quantity. Choose (at most) two other people who know you well and can add points that are not covered previously in your A competitive college will receive hundreds of letters each year from “powerful,” “influential,” or famous people supporting individual candidates. They are largely ignored. The support of an alumnus/a of a college is unlikely to make a great difference in the admission decision. Colleges do admit some students based on the pull of other people. At a competitive institution, that number might reach 5-10 students a year, out of thousands of applicants. Recognize this fact and accept that good recommendations serve only to highlight your strengths, not create those that do not exist.