Part 3 of a 4-part series
For students who are applying to the US for their undergraduate studies, Letters of Recommendation (LORs) form an important part of the application process. Typically, colleges ask for three LORs, so make sure you spend ample time thinking about who should write your letters and what you want them to mention.
Here are a few things you should think about before approaching your recommenders:
1) What is the importance of an LOR?
An LOR gives admissions officers (AOs) a third person’s perspective of you, helping them understand whether you will fit in their college community. So, it has the power to make or break your admissions chances.
2) Who should write your LOR?
Of the three LORs required, one has to be written by your school counsellor, while the remaining two must be written by teachers who have taught you in grades 11 and 12. When deciding which subject teacher to ask, consider those who have taught you core subjects or where it will be possible to show an upward trajectory of your grades. Also, think about the major for which you are applying. If you are applying for a major in mathematics, it is best to have your mathematics teacher write a recommendation letter for you, rather than a teacher who has taught you an elective subject.
However, in case the teacher is not available, you can also approach a different subject teacher. All you have do is ensure that this person does a good job in portraying your close relationship with the subject or a related project that you have worked on in school.
3) What makes a great LOR?
Writing a good LOR is not up to your recommender alone, you also play a part. Apart from politely requesting the teacher to write one for you, you also need to provide them with the required content. This is important so that they don’t miss out on anything important. The best way to ensure this is by giving them a copy of your updated resume. You can also provide your recommenders with three adjectives that you would want them to use to describe you and substantiate them with proper examples.
It is important to let your recommender know that LORs should not read as praises of you. Their purpose is to provide a context to the person you are, within and outside the classroom and include detailed examples. Within the classroom, it is important to specify if you belong to the top five percent of the class. Also, there are certain schools that do not offer a few subjects. For instance, if you are applying for an economics degree and your school does not provide higher level mathematics, it is important that your LOR mentions this. Recommendation letters must also have the ability to show an upward trajectory if you have had lower grades in the past.
The counsellor LOR is where the activities that you have done outside the classroom should be showcased. You cannot submit certificates of participation and achievements with your application, so share these certificates with your counsellor so that they know what to include about your involvement in their letter. As this letter will mention details of your extracurricular activities, schedule a meeting to share this information and explain all that you have done. For example, if you have worked with an NGO or organised a bake sale to raise funds for underprivileged people and have mentioned this somewhere in your application, your recommendation letter needs to back your claim.
A note on FERPA and why you need to waive it
According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974, students are advised of their rights concerning educational records, such as letters of recommendation. While you are free to respond as you wish, if you choose not to waive your right, some recommenders may decline your request and some colleges may disregard letters submitted on your behalf. In other words, FERPA gives you the right to inspect recommendations before they are sent to your colleges. So, it’s advisable that you waive this right.