Expert Advice: Great Recommendation Letters

Rachel Berlin, High School Counselor

  • I’ve personally been involved in scholarship selection meetings and have first-hand knowledge of how letters of recommendation distinguish students and give them the unique perspective needed. Test scores and grades do not show committees the personal side of applicants – the letters of recommendation bring candidates to life.
  • There are many students with outstanding GPAs, but when I write recommendation letters I want to acclaim the rigor of their classes that resulted in the GPA. I want to write about character traits that exemplify the student’s true personality. I want to brag about how their involvement has impacted the school’s culture.
  • Scholarship committees want to see a well-rounded student who explores many interests; when I write recommendations, I want to include programs and workshops the student participates in outside the classroom that shows their diversity and their commitment to community and volunteer opportunities.
  • I encourage students to take part in activities that contribute to our school environment and also the community at large. I ask students to pursue their high school careers in a way that exhibits a well-rounded student.

Chris Falconer, High School Counselor

  • To get a strong letter of recommendation students first need an excellent academic record. I suggest students choose honors, AP, College Credit Plus, Career Technical Education and International Baccalaureate level courses. They should also participate in community service, volunteer projects, social clubs and activities such as athletics, band and/or choir.
  • Behavior, character, grades, attendance are all very important for recommendation letters. Students need to develop a good working relationship with their teachers, peers and administrators who can vouch and speak to the attributes.
  • Lastly, if students adhere to the Six Pillars of Character – trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship – they should easily be able to obtaining a great letter of recommendation.

Jasmine Finch, High School Counselor

  • A strong letter of recommendation starts with the student. Students who excel academically, are involved in their school and community and build relationships with peers, faculty and staff are likely to receive strong recommendations letters.
  • A great first step for stellar recommendations is to get involved! Whether it is sports, drama, band or chess clubs, student involvement in their school and the community at large will lead to success (and great recommendations) in other areas.
  • Students should also keep their academic success at the forefront. Students who perform well in the classroom will receive high recommendations from those who know them best: their teachers.
  • Students looking for recommendation letters should start early and seek often. At the beginning of the school year, high school seniors should research scholarship opportunities and apply.
  • Do not wait to request records and recommendation letters. Give your teachers, counselors and principal adequate time to write the letters you need. Provide them with a brag sheet or resume highlighting your grades, activities, awards/honors and interests so they have guidance while writing the letter. And of utmost importance, ensure all information you give a recommender is truthful.

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