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References and Letters of Recommendation Tips!

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An image of an instructor and student with this text: “When it comes to getting letters of recommendation, choosing the right people is the most important thing. The point of obtaining references is for colleges to have a better understanding of who you are as a person. Although a GPA and test scores can show how well you do academically, it reflects nothing on your core personality.”

The college application process can be complicated, and sometimes it’s difficult to make yourself stand out. With college admissions becoming more and more competitive, having something extra besides your grades and test scores might give you that extra edge. One of these things are references and letters of recommendation. Having individuals that are able to vouch for you, and speak well about you, shows colleges you represent more than just a bunch of numbers. Here are a couple things you need to know about getting references and letters of recommendation!

Find the Right People

When it comes to getting letters of recommendation, choosing the right people is the most important thing. The point of obtaining references is for colleges to have a better understanding of who you are as a person. Although a GPA and test scores can show how well you do academically, it reflects nothing on your core personality. I realized this when I asked one of my high school teachers for a letter of recommendation. I was confident she would speak well on my behalf because I did very well in her class. However, when I asked her, she gave me some advice. Even though I aced her course, she didn’t really know who I was as a person. Granted she told me I was a kind student, but at the end of the day I didn’t stand out amongst the rest of the students she had. From there I asked teachers in which I had a very good relationship with, regardless of how well I did during the class. I knew that these references would be authentic and genuine when writing about who I was.

Besides teachers, having your guidance counselor write a letter of recommendation for you is essential because that person knows best how the application process works. Being able to identify mentors in your life that you have genuine relationships with will  increase the quality and meaningfulness of your letters of recommendation. 

Asking to Write a Letter

After knowing who you are going to ask, going about it is also important during this whole process. Writing letters of recommendation is not part of any teacher's job, and if they are doing it, they genuinely want to. Here are some tips on how to ask for a letter of recommendation:

Plan in Advance

Teachers and faculty are always busy, so being courteous is key. Identify when the applications are due, and be prepared to ask well in advance, so you know the person has enough time to write the letter without it being too much of a burden. 

Ask in Person

The absolute best way to ask someone for a letter of recommendation is to ask in person. Having that face-to-face interaction gives a sense of professionalism and maturity. 

Talk about Yourself

When asking, it might be good to talk about yourself. Teachers have hundreds of students every year, and although they know who you are, they might forget what you were like during their class. Mention parts of their class that were the most interesting to you, and some of the things you learned and gained from their teaching. On top of this, tell them where you intend to apply and what areas of study you are most interested in. By doing this, whoever is writing your letter will have a better sense of what to write, instead of starting with a blank slate. 

Stay in Touch

After communicating with them about your letter, it’s really important to stay in touch with the person for your application process. Thanking, checking in, seeing if they need any additional information from you, or reminding them of deadlines will continue your professionalism and courteousness. After they have finished the letter, writing them a thank you note, or even thanking them in person, is great because it shows how grateful and appreciative you are. 

Overall, getting letters of recommendation can be one of the most fun times of the application process. It’s a chance to reconnect with previous mentors and teachers that you really enjoyed learning from, while giving your college applications more depth.  

More tips from a UMass Admissions Counselor:

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