Before you got asking for a letter of recommendation for your high school or college application, think about what you are trying to accomplish with them. What is the purpose of a recommendation?
What do you want your letters to do for you? There can be many purposes. One, it could be highlighting a character trait that is admirable in you. It is like endorsing you as a person. Two, it can personalize your application and tell a story about you as a student and as a person.
Your grades, test scores, and activities highlight your accomplishments as a student, but they do not paint a complete picture of you as a person. Letters of recommendation can go beyond your scores and help you come to life in the eyes of admissions officers. Recommendation letters can speak to your academic potential, character traits, and personality, as well as about how you've connected with others in the school community over the past few years.
2. Who do you ask
Ask recommendations from two types of teachers. The first is the one you have built good rapport with. You interacted with her as a human being. Talk to them about how they see you as a unique student. Can they judge the essence of what makes you unique? If so, you know this is the teacher who can speak about you as a human being and help you stand out.
The second one is more technical in nature. For example, if you want to take computer science or math, and you excelled in math in school and took computer programming as well, ask the math or the computer science (or both) for a recommendation. Remind them how well you did in their classes and show any projects you have done using what you learned in their classes.
3. How to ask
There is an etiquette in asking for a recommendation. The best way is to keep your teachers in the loop. Talk about your goals and ambitions. Ask their advice on the schools of your choice. By the time you come around asking for recommendations, they already have a good picture of who you are and what you are trying to accomplish. They will be happy to write a recommendation for you. Just ask politely and give them a chance to say no, if they don't feel comfortable.
When you do meet with them, have a list of keywords ready. Don't bombard them with small talk and non essential information. Share the keywords of what the school is looking for: type of character, strength in academics, sports, extra-curricular activities, passion, etc.
4. Find Alumni of target college
Can you find an alumnus of your target college? Perhaps they already know you or someone in your family. Reach out to them and ask about the school. Build a rapport with them. Ask what is important to them about their school? How did the school help them? Do they miss their school? Would they recommend the school to you, given your interests and academic background? If they know you well, would they be either willing to write a letter of recommendation, or perhaps introduce you to a professor at the school? You might be able to work for the professor during the summer or when you go to college. Remember, professors love students who work for them! And getting a recommendation from a professor of your target school can often make you stand out from the thousands of good students who apply.
5. Passion Project
Find your passion and pick a passion project. Read the story of Eni here. You will find how her passion fueled her and got her into Harvard. Share your passion with your teachers, an alumnus or someone else who believe in you (except your immediate family, of course).
6. Get Help from Hillview Prep
And finally, get help from your team here at Hillview Prep. Maybe, we can help you craft a strategy of getting good letters of recommendation, help you rehearse how you are going to ask, and of course, help you review your entire application. We can even help you with your college essays.
Contact us if you are looking for help.
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