“What are some of the most important pieces of the application?”
Extracurricular activities, sure. Essays, absolutely. Grades and test scores, of course!
One thing that’s easy to forget about is the value of a strong letter of recommendation. But who better to show a college what you’re like as a student than your teachers!
“So I should probably ask a teacher who has given me mostly A’s, right?”
Yes, you want to find a teacher who can speak to your strengths as a student, but strong students are more than just their grades. Strong students are those who engage in class discussions, ask questions when they have them, and seek help from teachers when they need it.
The best letters of recommendation come from teachers who know you well and have taught you in a core academic subject (preferably in your junior year). These are the teachers who can showcase to colleges that you’re the type of student they’re looking for.
“Can I just write the letter myself and have my teacher sign off on it?”
You’d be surprised how often I actually get this question. Though my answer is always a resounding no! In fact, most colleges require you to sign off on what are called your FERPA rights, which are the rights to review your recommendations before they’re submitted. This allows for complete honesty and reliability in the recommendation process. (And all the more reason why you should ask teachers who you think will write glowing recommendations for you!)
Though some high schools do allow you to provide your teachers with a ‘brag sheet’ or something you can use to detail your non-academic interests and personal qualities. Some teachers find this helpful to refer to when they are writing your recommendations.
“If I’m applying to six colleges, do I have to ask six teachers for a recommendation?”
Not at all! In fact, most colleges allow you to request and manage your recommendations electronically right on the applications themselves, so fortunately you will have the ability to pick and choose which schools you want to receive which recommendations. The process is nice and easy for both you and your recommenders.
“What if I want my boss or coach to write a recommendation for me?”
Some applications, like the Common App, allow you to submit what’s called an “other” evaluation, which is meant to be written by an individual who knows you outside of the classroom (i.e., coach, boss, mentor, pastor, etc.). I always encourage students to submit these additional letters of recommendation if they are able, as they’re just one more way for a college to learn all about you!