Colleges ask for recommendation letters because they want to get an idea of your personality and accomplishments that may not be represented in other pieces of your college application. The goal of these letters is to show who you are, expound on some of your strengths, and articulate why you will be an excellent addition to the colleges to which you are applying.
Most colleges limit the quantity and type of recommendations they require and accept. The ideal candidates to write a letter of recommendation include teachers, your academic advisor, and sometimes a coach or homeschool parent.
Most applications will require at least one teacher recommendation. Ideally, you will select a teacher who knows you well and can provide a strong, positive reference. In some instances, it may make sense to ask your homeschool parent to provide this particular reference, and some colleges will allow this for homeschool students. Generally, colleges may wish to see more objective references and consider a letter a parent to be biased. Many colleges will ask for two teacher references. The same principles apply to this second reference. Some sources for teacher references may include Kolbe's online school, your local co-op, or a dual-credit college professor.
The next common category is the counselor recommendation. This is typically a written letter or evaluation (or sometimes a form) provided by the student's academic advisor. The counselor's recommendation usually accompanies the secondary school report. Not every college requires a counselor letter. A Letter of Recommendation Request Form is required for requesting a letter of recommendation from Kolbe's advising staff. Although it can be forwarded to Kolbe teachers, the primary purpose of this form is to provide the information requested in "counselor" recommendation letters. If you are applying to multiple schools or scholarships, you do not need to submit this form more than once. The results of this form will help your advisor write a strong, detailed letter and complete other application information. The time and effort you place in thoughtfully and thoroughly answering these questions will be mirrored in the quality of the recommendation letter.
Lastly, some applications may allow for an additional reference such as a coach, work manager, or volunteer supervisor.
Good Business Etiquette
In general, it is recommended that you speak to your advisor and any other recommenders well in advance of your deadlines. Ask your recommender if they will be able to provide you with a positive reference. If they agree, offer to provide anything they may need to help support their letter writing. Do not email them with all kinds of extras that have not been requested. While some recommenders might be interested in all those extras, others may just want a list of highlights or have their own form they'd like you to complete. If a recommender tells you they can't provide a letter, shows any reluctance, or suggests another recommender may be a better choice, that is your cue to thank them and move on.
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Requesting letters of recommendation provides an excellent opportunity for young people to begin practicing good business etiquette. This element of a student's application may be conducted with parent support but should be led by the student. The student should be the one to reach out to request references and manage their communications related to college applications.
#1 - Email, call, or contact your recommender in person. This is where you ask if they are willing & able to provide you with a strong reference. This is also where you can list the things you are able to provide to assist them in this effort, if they are able to provide a reference. Things such as your resume, grade report/transcript, other reference letters, etc. are all things a recommender may wish to see.
#2 - Do not make last-minute requests.
#3 - Provide whatever materials your recommender requested in a timely fashion.
#4 - Be sure to follow up with a call, email, or note thanking your recommender for their help.
#5 - After you make your decision on a school, get the job, or win the scholarship, your recommender would love to hear about it. Share the good news once you pick a school or land a job!
FERPA is a federal law that is set up to protect the privacy of student records. When you waive your FERPA rights, there is an understanding that you have not had access to your recommendation letters and do not intend to read them. When a student waives FERPA rights, colleges have confidence that the letters are unreserved and truthful. Much less value will be placed on a letter previewed by a student, and colleges might wonder why a student wanted to see the letter. Also, some recommenders may decline to write a letter for you if you do not waive your FERPA rights. If you're unsure how to respond, we encourage you to discuss this with your parents and your advisor. You can learn more about FERPA here.