Letters of Recommendation: An Overview

Colleges and universities review many items as part of a holistic application review: grades, courses, test scores, activity list/resume, and letters of recommendation (LOR). Let’s dive deeper into the role a LOR plays, and the different types of letters that can be submitted on an applicant’s behalf.

Letters of Recommendation: What are they and why are they important?

In the best-case scenario, a letter of recommendation will help to paint a picture, tell a story, and further the narrative that an applicant is putting forward in a way that supports their candidacy. That said, you want to have different sources that will describe you in different ways. LORs should describe different aspects of who you are as a student (a teacher recommendation), who you are inside of your high school community (a school counselor/guidance counselor/pre-college advisor), and who you are as a community member outside of high school (an employer/supervisor, volunteer or activities leader, faith or religious leader, coach/mentor, etc.). Each letter serves a distinct purpose and when given the opportunity you should choose carefully when asking someone to write a letter on your behalf.

Letters of Recommendation: 
An Introduction

Teacher Letter of Recommendation

When selecting which teacher to request a recommendation letter from, I strongly recommend choosing wisely. The academic letter of recommendation is one of the staples of the college application and readers give a lot of weight to what the recommender says and how they say it. Why is the teacher’s letter so important? It’s important because it helps the reader get first-hand information about your learning style, your academic potential, and your behavior in the classroom. Are you the type of student who chases grades? Are you the type of student that learns for the sake of knowledge? What are you like in the classroom? Do you pay attention and ask questions, or do you disrupt the flow of the class? A “teacher rec” gives colleges and universities a special insight into who you are as a student.

Counselor Letter of Recommendation and/or Secondary School Report

This is also a very important aspect of the application review process. It allows the college or university to put your class performance and extra-curricular achievement into context based on your entire high school community. The “counselor rec” also provides insight into the inner workings of your high school such as any rules on taking Advanced Placement or dual enrollment courses, grade inflation/deflation, or any other factors that are unique to your high school environment.

Character Letters of Recommendation or Community Letters of Recommendation

These letters play more of a minor role in the review of a file and the ultimate admissions decision. They can be used to supplement the first two letters and highlight the less observable parts of your personality. Ideally, work or volunteer letters display your work ethic, and commitment to your community and highlight your ethics, your abilities, and your interpersonal skills. Character Letters should be succinct but detailed.

Some Helpful Tips

  • Request letters of recommendation early
    •  Life happens and people get busy so you’ll want to provide some lead time so the recommender can produce the strongest letter on your behalf.
  • Choose a strong recommender
    •  You should consider teachers where you have excelled or who have watched you grow over time. They should know you personally and have had you in their class recently (junior or senior year)
  • Build relationships with your future recommenders
    • The better they know you, the stronger and more impactful the letter.
  • Provide brag sheets of your academic and extracurricular accomplishments to potential recommenders
    • This additional information will allow them to add substance to their letters
  • Become familiar with the protocol of your high school regarding the recommendation process.
    • Hopefully, this will lessen anxiety levels and make the process go smoother

Want to learn more about letters of recommendation or other aspects of the admissions process? Let’s talk – contact us to speak with one of our Admissions strategists today!

Former Assistant Director of Admissions at University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Former Associate Director of Admissions at University of Michigan Law School Former Assistant Dean for Admissions at University of Florida College of Law, 18 years (combined) in University of Michigan Ann Arbor Undergraduate and Law School Admissions 2 years in University of Florida College of Law Admissions,
Delphine has reviewed more than 20,000 applications, and has read well over 30,000 personal statements, and essays throughout her professional career. She has held decision-making positions at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, and the University of Florida. Moreover, she received the University of Michigan Distinguished Diversity Leaders Award, and a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition of Outstanding and Invaluable Service to the Community for her efforts in admissions and recruiting.

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