Responses to a few questions on this subject:
1) How many recommendations should I send?
Remember that each admissions officer or committee reads THOUSANDS of applications, so this is not a competition to see who sends the most. The truth is that you can really annoy a reader with a ton of recommendations, especially if they don’t explain different information. Whatever the school asks for is sufficient, although I’d always send at least one from a teacher. A good rule of thumb is no more than one to two more than required.
2) Who should write them?
The ideal is a recent teacher in an academic class where you had to work hard but got a great grade, and who knows you well and likes you. Obviously there are trade offs as not very many students can find the ideal, and the most important part is finding a teacher that knows you well and likes you. Once you have that teacher and he or she talks about you as a student, other recommendations can focus on other aspects of your abilities – such as a coach talking about how determined you are, a clergy person talking about your dedication, a boss talking about your sense of responsibility. This relates to the next question:
3) What should they write?
Ask them to write what they know. If a teacher only knows you in the classroom, have them focus on you as a student, not about your great extra-curriculars, and if a coach only knows you from the team, don’t ask that person to talk about what a great student you are. Otherwise, it isn’t believable. Remember, they don’t have to be long, just positive!
4) What is the best way to ask for a recommendation?
I encourage you to be really straightforward, but very specific. Try, “will you write me a GOOD recommendation.” Sometimes they will qualify their answer, “Well, I can write you an HONEST recommendation.” In that case, I encourage a, “no thank you!”. The object of a recommendation is to hear from people that recommend you, hence the name. I really don’t need to hear how you toilet-papered a teacher’s house when you were a freshman (true story – that was in a rec I read years ago. It’s all I can remember about that candidate).
Other interesting sites to find info on the subject:
Hopefully this new information will prove INCREDIBLY helpful. In the meantime, I hope you find many schools that will be great matches, I hope you get in everywhere you apply, I hope you get every scholarship you want…and of course, I hope you choose Mason.
Be seeing you,
Dean of Admissions and
Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Development
George Mason University
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