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Countdown to college: Letters of recommendation, Part 2

By Lee Shulman Bierer, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Education News

Last week's column covered the basics of Letters of Recommendation:

Who do you ask?

What should they say that will really make a difference?

Where do these letter go? What are the logistics involved in getting them to each of the colleges and universities where you'll be applying.

Today we're talking:

Timing, i.e., WHEN to ask? as well as WHY letters of recommendation offer value to your college application and HOW do you prepare your recommender to write the best letter possible.



It is best to ask teachers in the spring of junior year if they are willing and able to write a letter on your behalf. If they say "yes", then ask them about their preferred timelines. Some teachers like to take care of the letters over the summer and others want a true summer vacation. If you have colleges with early deadlines (October 15 and November 1), make sure you provide your recommenders with at least a month's time to write the letters.


Letters of recommendation and essays are the two most powerful subjective characteristics of a student's application. Think about it, if two students present similar statistics (grades and test scores) and colleges need to accept just one of the students; letters of recommendation can often be the critical tipping factor. Colleges want to know how a student has contributed to the classroom, are they respectful of others' opinions, do they reach out to help their peers, are they leaders in class discussions and group projects, etc.


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