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A Guide to Letters of Recommendation

JUN 15, 2020 • 4 min read

Though letters of recommendation always have a key, influential piece of your application, this year it is more important than ever to have extremely strong letters of recommendation. With many schools moving to a test-optional policy for this application cycle, there are fewer factors within the application for admissions officers to consider. This results in your letters of recommendation and essays holding even more weight than in previous years. So, how does one procure the best of the best?

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a document written by teachers and administrators that provides a review of the applicant inside and outside of the classroom. They usually highlight academic performance as well as intellectual promise. Teacher recommendations reflect the student’s academic performance while administrator or counselor recommendations provide a more holistic view of the applicant.

Why They Matter

Letters of recommendation provide admission officers an understanding of how the student will perform on and contribute to a campus: academically, socially, extracurricularly. The letters are a lens into how educators and administrators view the applicant as a student and member of the community. This component highlights parts of the student that grades and test scores cannot.

When To Ask

The key here is: the earlier the better. We encourage you to ask your teachers before the end of June so that they have the opportunity to work on them over the summer.

Who to ask?

We suggest three letters of recommendation: two from different teachers and one from an administrator or counselor.

The teacher recommendation letters should be from educators who know you well and have taught you in the last two years of rigorous academic courses. Ideally, this teacher knows you both academically and personally and can highlight your strengths.

An administrator could be a principal, housemaster, guidance counselor, or college counselor. They will speak more on behalf of your character and performance as a school and community member.

Don’t ask an administrator who doesn’t have too much to say. The content of the letter is much more influential than the author.

Do ask people who have impacted your academic success and can speak to your academic and personal strengths.

How to Ask

If you’re able to ask in person, please do! With all of the restrictions this year, of course, this may not be possible. In this case, we recommend that you send an email. In the email, explain why you chose to ask them to write your letters of recommendation, and detail your goals for college and beyond. Let them know the particular points you would like them to consider including such as the class you were in with them. Offer any support that they may need throughout the process.

How to Support your Teachers in this Process

Many administrators you speak with will have their own format for these letters. Others will not and will request more guidance through this process. They will ask you for specific information such as intended areas of study, career ambitions, and information on your extracurriculars. Be sure to provide as much detail as possible. It can be helpful to put together a resume and send this over to your chosen recommenders.


To speak with an academic advisor to learn more about standing out in the application process, you may schedule a complimentary profile assessment here.

Drea M.

Written by

Drea M.

Drea attended the Lawrenceville School and then graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with a B.A in Journalism & Anthropology. She currently resides in San Diego. Previously, she worked at Education First, an international education company, serving as the Activities Coordinator for a diverse student population. She now works for Crimson as an Education Coordinator and Copywriter. In her free time, you can find her seeing live music, hiking, and traveling.