Better recommendations for college admissions

It’s important to remember, whether I’m writing about essays, recommendations, or other non-academic pieces of the application, that these are FAR less important than your academic records.  It seems worth repeating that test scores are likewise far less important than academic records– but that essays and recommendations are given even less weight.


Since recommendations are one of the only things you can control while applying, even though they aren’t as important as you might think, there are a few things to bear in mind.


I’ve found that most recommendations follow one of two patterns. Once in a while the recommendation adds important new information, particularly when it explains a brief downturn in academic performance.  It is always helpful to hear from a third party, particularly a teacher, that some period of poor performance can be attributed to some clear cause (besides lack of talent or hard work), especially if that cause has now been resolved.


 In most cases, however, an applicant gives the writer a resume, and the recommendation ends up being a list of everything the student accomplished, which is a repeat of the material that the applicant already submitted.  These are tedious, and add very little to the application.  Instead I encourage applicants to have recommenders write about what they know best.  Clearly we want your teachers to talk about your academic talent.  You might also have a coach talk about your leadership skill, a boss talk about your work ethic, or a clergy person talk about your dedication.  It’s important to know that these don’t have to long, in fact shorter recommendations on the information that a recommender knows best will often have a much larger impact than a lengthy (repetitious, redundant, boorrringg!) recitation of everything you’ve ever done.


Next up – how many recommendations should you submit?


2 Responses

  1. Now a days recommendations for college admission has been increase everywhere…………….

    get-accepted – education,community,parents,college admissions,college admission,admission advice,educators

  2. Thanks so much for making this blog, it has been so so helpful!
    You’ve helped clear up so many confusing questions and have even inspired me to apply to GMU.
    -Isabel A

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