AO Advice: College Recommendation Letters 101

A strong college rec letter can really boost an application. Get all your questions about college recommendation letters answered in a 60-minute webinar and Q&A session from CollegeAdvisor. Former Admissions Officer, Angela Park-Pennington will share her insider knowledge on college recommendation letters: what they are, when to ask for one, who to ask, and more.

Date 03/16/2022
Duration 1:00:41

Webinar Transcription

2022-03-15 AO Advice: College Recommendation Letters 101

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: [00:00:00] Hi, everyone.

Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: Welcome to AO Advice: College Recommendation Letters 101. To orient everyone with the webinar timing, we’ll start off with a presentation, then answer your questions in a live Q and a. On the sidebar, you can download our slides and you can start submitting your questions in the live Q and a.

Now let’s meet our

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: panelists. I good evening everyone. My name is Angela Park Pennington. Um, I am a former admissions officer and currently serve as an associate director of admissions here at Um, as you can see, I graduated from UC Berkeley, um, and I was the class of 2010. I went on to receive my master’s in international relations from UC San Diego.

Um, and I have been working in the college admissions space for just about the last decade or so. Um, most recently prior to joining college advising. I worked at USC at the Marshall [00:01:00] school of business, um, where I served as an associate director and read probably thousands of applications during my time there.

Um, so became very, very familiar with letters of recommendation and, um, what, um, you know, eventually became stronger, uh, letters of rec than others. So tonight I’m happy to kind of share some of my insights, um, from, you know, having been on that side of the table. Um, we’ll talk a little bit about what letters of recommendation are, um, the value that they provide to an application.

Um, so essentially how important they are. Um, and a little bit about timeline. I know a lot of you may be curious about what is the appropriate time, why, um, really getting started on, on college recommendation letter strategy. So we’ll talk a little bit about that and then we’ll have time at the end for questions as well.

So I’m looking forward to, um, to chatting with you all [00:02:00] tonight.

Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: Great. I know Angela, you have some great information to share to our participants. So before we get started into the strategies for how to do your get letter recommendations, we want to get a sense of who is in the audience this evening. So please share with us what great you are in so that we can, you know, make sure that we’re addressing, you know, whatever your needs may be based on the grade level that you’re in.

Um, so, so far we have about 60% of our audience is in the 11th grade. Followed by that we have about 20% that are going to 10th grade, 11%, 12th grade. And then just a little bit under 5% are the ninth grade. So pretty good range of, um, grade levels in the presentation this evening. So Angela, I will turn it back over to you to share with us more about college recommendation list.

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: Great. Um, really wonderful to see kind of, um, [00:03:00] all the, um, members of the audience here tonight, and everybody eager to learn about letters of recommendation. Um, so I’ll start with kind of a basic introduction to what, even our letters of recommendation. Um, so generally in your college application, um, you will, uh, be looking at submitting three letters of rec that’s kind of the traditional, uh, par for the course.

It’s going to vary depending on the school that you’re applying to. Some schools will not be requiring. Um, uh, you won’t be submitting any letters of recommendations on schools you’ll be submitting to. And some schools you’ll be submitting three. It can really vary many schools. You’ll have the opportunity to submit one letter of recommendation from your counselor and then two from, um, from teachers.

And there are also opportunities for supplemental letters of recommendation. And we’ll talk about that in a little bit. So what are letters of recommendation? They are an opportunity for those who know you in an [00:04:00] educational setting. So counselors our teachers, um, to tell a little bit more to flesh out your story, um, to describe how you have been, um, a member of your campus community, how have you contributed, how have you stood out as a leader?

How have you been, um, a positive member to the campus community and appear to, um, that the other students at the school, um, this is a great way for college admissions officers to have a better understanding of who you are in terms of work ethic, in terms of personality, in terms of characteristics that are a little bit more difficult for admissions officers to assess.

Based off of fully your academic performance and your transcript, um, scores, um, extracurricular activities, essentially things that you’re, you’re kind of presenting, um, on your own. So typically recommenders, we’ll [00:05:00] talk about things like, um, the context of your role, your relationship as a student with your counselor, so, or, or counselor or teacher.

So if it’s your teacher, you know, what is that relationship like? Um, are you somebody who is engaged in class? Um, are you somebody who continues to show your interest in the subject material? Are you somebody who continues to, um, be a supportive student? Um, so a little bit about that context of how they know you as an individual person, um, outside of just being a great student, memorable experiences and interactions, um, these might be some anecdotes they might share about, um, certain experiences and interactions that this counselor or teacher might’ve had with you.

Maybe there was a really memorable time when. Um, there was a pamphlet in the classroom and you made an effort to, um, try to resolve the situation. Um, [00:06:00] and you know, they had a great impression of you, of your maturity. Um, your willingness to help, uh, your willingness to be a support to your, your peers so they can provide some anecdotes and stories to those types of incidents as well.

So really they’re talking about their impression of your character, um, and, uh, as well as your general judgment of college, right? Um, college readiness is not solely encompassing academic qualities. So while that is a major factor, in terms of the admissions officer kind of determining is the student ready for college?

Is this student ready for a highly selective, highly rigorous college curriculum? Those are absolutely factors that are being considered, but there are also other qualities that colleges are looking for. I think we’re all, you know, at least somewhat familiar with holistic admissions and, um, you know what that means in terms of what, what admissions [00:07:00] offices are looking for outside of academics.

So they’re wanting to get a better sense of your character. What type of student you’re going to be. Once you join their college campus, are you going to be somebody who is engaged and involved and care about your community? Are you going to be somebody who, uh, You know, uh, wants to create and maintain positive relationships with others.

Um, those are things that they can’t really assess from really what’s on paper and they have to rely on other people’s accounts of their interactions with you and, and kind of the character that, that you’ve displayed and they’ve witnessed over time. Um, and I’ll talk a little bit more about why back, um, is so important.

So things that are not obvious from the rest of your application, work ethic, your relationships with others, um, integrity, responsibility, maturity, your curiosity. There are many, [00:08:00] many factors that are equally as important, um, to your academic abilities. Um, the other reason why letters of recommendation are so important is because college is trying to.

Um, evaluate you in the context of your environment. What does that mean? That means that, um, it would be really impossible and also quite unfair, um, for your applications to be evaluated at the, with the same metrics, um, with the same evaluation and the same point of view, um, comparing you to a student that goes to a completely different school, maybe.

Much larger, maybe one that is much smaller, maybe one that is much, you know, um, uh, you know, very much more well-resourced. Um, so those are all factors that can influence your, um, high school experience, the opportunities that are available to you. Um, the challenges that you might [00:09:00] face in your high school environment.

Um, so having a better understanding of what really is the context of your environment is really helpful to an admissions officer. So that’s where a letter of recommendation from a special ed counselor can be very helpful. Um, the letters of rec from a counselor versus a teacher can really vary in that regard.

Generally, a counselor is speaking about that context of the environment. Um, does this student really stand out compared to their peers? They’ll speak a little bit about what kind of traditional at their school, uh, at your school, um, are your accomplishing. Really stellar. Do they stand out? They will certainly highlight and emphasize those.

Um, and teachers will be able to speak a little bit more to the relationship aspect, uh, to the qualities like work ethic. And, um, some of the other, other qualities I mentioned earlier, um, the reason for that is obviously because teachers have a stronger relationship with their students [00:10:00] generally than counselors do.

This may or may not be the case at your school. Um, but typically it is the case that unfortunately, um, there are not enough counselors, uh, or the ratio of students to college counselors at a high school is generally, uh, not generous. Um, there are oftentimes when schools have counselors that are responsible for, um, you know, a case load of hundreds of students, it’s really impossible in that situation for counselors to really be able to know each and every one of their students on a really personal and familiar basis.

Um, and that’s where they can provide more of the context of the overall high school. Um, and how your, uh, performance, how your involvement really stand out in that regard. Um, The letters of recommendation from your teachers, um, can often bear a lot of weight in terms of, again, [00:11:00] kind of that, that human component.

And that’s often the reason why, um, they’re asking for more than one letter of recommendation from a teacher.

So, who should you ask for a letter of recommendation? So we spoke a little bit about counselors and teachers. Um, cancer will speak to your achievements and growth over four years. That being said, I want to make a note for any students who may have transferred school. Um, I wouldn’t necessarily be alarmed by this that oh no.

You know, I changed schools in my sophomore year, my junior year, maybe even my senior year. Um, my current counselor has not really known me very well, has not really seen my growth since my freshman year. You know, what are they going to talk about? What are they don’t know me? Um, I would not worry about that too much, but I would make it a priority, um, to start having those conversations with your counselor sooner than [00:12:00] later.

And we’ll talk a little bit about timelines in the coming slides. Um, So there is still that opportunity for you to inform your counselor about your own achievements and about your own growth. Um, your counselor. I would love to learn about your experience at your past high school. Um, your experience thus far after having transferred to this new school.

Um, and this also applies to students who have not transferred. Maybe you’ve been at the same school, um, throughout the context of your entire high school career. That’s still an important conversation to have. And again, I will, um, also say that if you are at a school where your chancellor has a very high case load, and you’re not able to reserve, you know, um, a significant amount of time, you know, 30 minutes or more to sit down and talk with your counselor, that there are ways we can do, we can still provide that information and kind of circumvent that issue.

Well, we’ll get to that in a little bit as well. They’re providing and sharing that [00:13:00] information about you. So with teachers, you definitely want to ask, um, for the letter of recommendation from teachers who have taught you in core academic courses, that’s going to be, you know, your, especially if you are applying to a specific major where those courses kind of align, um, that’s a really ideal situation for a teacher to be able to lend some credibility, um, and to lend kind of again, that, um, uh, that word, those words of affirmation about, you know, their belief in your readiness for not just.

But specifically this college program that you’re applying for there, this specific major, um, the core academic courses you want to, we want to ask your teachers who have taught you in English and the math and the sciences, um, in your history classes. Um, and, and again, want to emphasize if you know, for your second record letter of rec, maybe you would want to ask, uh, for a teacher that aligns with your major, if it’s [00:14:00] not one of your core academic courses, for example, if you are a student applying to a business program, um, and your high school offers some courses in business, and that’s not necessarily a core academic subject, but it’d be very helpful to have a letter of rec from your business teacher that can really, really apply to a number of different majors.

Um, in addition to that, you want to consider this the teachers who you have the strongest relationships with, um, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the classes where you received the highest grades. And fact I would not consider that a factor at all. Um, uh, I would really recommend thinking about the classes where you’ve been the most engaged, where, you know, maybe it’s a teacher who you would often go to for, um, you know, during your lunch hour or, you know, during their office hour.

Um, just to kind of stop by ask questions, have a chat. Um, uh, you know, [00:15:00] uh, have some conversations outside of the traditional classroom time. Those are the teachers that I would recommend. And the reason for that is because the material that they can write in their letter of recommendation is going to be much stronger than the material that a teacher can write.

If this person is somebody who’s really only known you, um, just, you know, from the classroom in an hour, a day type of situation, um, especially if you were not somebody who is particularly, you know, engaged and involved. Um, so I would really, you know, think about, uh, and for our younger students, um, who are here tonight, I would really think about, you know, trying to build those relationships.

Um, and, you know, uh, and I’ll talk a little bit about some of the, the habits and, um, Efforts that you can make to, to build those relationships. Um, I’ve also written here recently taught, um, junior year as ideal, uh, not just recently taught, but also linked. If you have a teacher who has [00:16:00] taught you for, you know, two plus years, then that is a fantastic candidate for your recommender, your recommender, um, they will be able to speak to not just your wonderful qualities, but also to your growth.

You want to be able to have a strong letter of recommendation that is memorable, that adds value, um, to the rest, to the admissions officer. When they’re, when they’re reading your letter of rec, there are many times when letters of recommendation. Can seem, um, uh, not very unique, they will be strong. They will say only positive things about you, but they don’t really stand out from anybody else’s letter of recommendation.

You know, they’ll say kind of the general things of the students always showed up one time, always, you know, um, participated in class. Um, always got, you know, uh, you know, achieved high grades in my class. You know, I have no complaints about this students. I’m sure to students ready for college, you know, that’s kind of a.[00:17:00]

Uh, very mild and a little bit of a bland letter of recommendation where it’s not going to hurt you. It’s not necessarily going to help you either. So here’s where we’re wanting to make sure the letter of recommendation, you know, adds a little bit of to your application. So you want it to help you. Um, obviously the situation we want to avoid is where it hurts you.

Um, but you know, we, we want to make sure that we’re, we’re trying to, um, put as much value and put as much content and, and have as much of an impactful letter of recommendation as possible. So we were looking for teachers who taught you in core classes, um, teachers who you have known for a longer period of time than just a year and teachers who are able to speak about, um, uh, uh, their interactions with you.

Um, most recently, um, so supplemental letters of rep, these are a little bit more uncommon. Um, but if in the case that you have an opportunity. To submit a supplemental letter [00:18:00] recommendation dealer, generally, always optional too. You won’t find them being a required letter. If you have the option to submit a supplemental letter of rec, I always recommend that you do go that route, um, having an additional letter of recommendation, um, to again, speak to your character and speak to your positive quality than your strengths.

Um, just that, it’s just another opportunity for the admissions officer to learn a little bit more about you and have another opportunity to be, um, impressed by you. Um, so I listed some offered some examples of, um, common, um, you know, individual that, uh, people go to for supplemental letters of rec, um, coach, a club advisor.

Um, if you have ever had a part-time job, um, then you know, an employer, um, you know, leaders in your community who you’ve had interactions with, those are always great. You know, options. Uh, if [00:19:00] you don’t see anything listed here that you think applies to you, um, and that’s okay, generally you want to avoid family members, but outside of that, if you can think of, you know, members in the community members that, you know, individuals, adults that, um, you know, you have come to know who can speak to your character and their relationship with you, um, uh it’s that you cannot go wrong with a supplemental letter of rec.

So how do you build and maintain a strong relationship with a potential writer of your letter of recommendation? Um, so a few things that are. I, you know, probably pretty obvious. And, um, um, you know, it starts with being respectful. It starts with showing your, your interest. It starts with showing just basic, you know, um, uh, you know, aptitude for building positive relationships with [00:20:00] others.

Um, so in terms of engagement and involvement, um, this can look like the parents, this can show up in many different. I mentioned a little bit earlier about showing interest in class being engaged and involved. Um, so you want to be somebody who, you know, isn’t, um, just kind of passively learning and passively being a member of the classroom.

You want to be somebody who is going to even just stand out in your teacher’s mind as, okay. That’s somebody who I know that they’re interested because they express it. They are asking questions. Um, they are, you know, asking me if there’s anything they can do to help. Um, when there are group. You know, there are not the weakest link.

They are involved and engaged in their group projects and being helpful to others. If they see others who are maybe struggling, they’re willing to help, you know, those are all, um, habits and behaviors that teachers love to see, [00:21:00] um, you know, engage outside of the classroom as well. Like I mentioned, you know, having, um, trying to build those conversations, uh, have those conversations and build that relationship outside of the classroom.

Oftentimes, um, for clubs on campus, um, at school, um, teachers are oftentimes, you know, the club censor or club advisor. Um, that’s one other way that students have an opportunity to have more interactions with a teacher outside of the classroom. Um, so that’s something that I would highly encourage as well if they’re not already involved in some clubs on campus.

Um, then, then I strongly recommend, um, that activity to, um, not just for, you know, building a relationship with your, uh, recommender, but you know, for a variety of reasons. Um, but that is certainly one, um, pretty straight forward way to be able to build that relationship with, uh, with the teacher, if they are in your club.

Um, I also want [00:22:00] to, uh, to mention emphasizing your intellectual curiosity. This is something that, um, colleges, uh, really, really value and they, they make an effort to try to assess it. They try to pull this out in your application. What does intellectual curiosity mean? It means, are you curious, do you really care about, um, you know, whatever subject that you’re learning in school, or if it’s happens to be a subject that’s not offered at your school, what efforts are you making?

What measures are you taking to try to expand your knowledge and learn more? So, um, you know, going back to, you know, um, the, the example of, um, you know, asking, asking a teacher who teaches a subject to that aligned with your intended major. Um, so obviously you may have that in common. You may be interested in a future career.

Um, you know, in computer science, maybe your school offers, um, a coding class. Maybe you are interested in [00:23:00] pursuing a future career in journalism and you happen to be, you know, either like the newspaper or your book staff at your school. Um, if, uh, if, uh, the, the teacher who is teaching this course or leading this subject at your school, um, this is something that you already share in common with.

So explore the subject, explore the field, how these conversations with your teacher, ask them questions about their own journey. You know, how did they become a teacher teaching this subject material? What were their experiences in the field? You know, um, explore that and try approach it from a place of genuine curiosity of wanting to learn.

And, um, believe me, teachers are more than happy to share and kind of talk about their past and their experiences too. Especially if they know that you have a genuine interest in it, and you’re genuinely curious and you know, maybe whatever they can share with you could be helpful. Um, uh, you know, I assure you that your teacher [00:24:00] is happy to share that information.

But they’re moving onto the next slide. I actually do want to touch on one thing, which is about COVID COVID impacts. Um, so in terms of, you know, building relationships with either your counselor or your teacher, there may help in many challenges in the last couple of years due to COVID due to, you know, um, having the school online, you know, not having opportunities to really connect with your teacher on a personal basis, because you’re kind of just logging in when school, when your class begins and, um, logging off from the class ends, um, not as easy to drop in and have a conversation.

You know, things are changing a little bit now with, with students returning to the classroom. And if that hasn’t happened in your area already, then hopefully it does happen soon. Um, but in terms of the past couple of years, um, you, you know, you more than likely have been impacted by COVID and then the lack of in-person school.[00:25:00]

Um, I will say that in terms of, you know, having the opportunity, um, to, um, you know, connect with, with teachers just kind of easily more casually, more informally, more off the cuff, not having scheduled a meeting with them, although that opportunity might have been missed. Um, there’s a lot to be said for efforts being made now.

Um, so scheduling zoom calls, scheduling one-on-one sessions, um, whether it’s 15 minutes or just a quick check-in with your teacher, um, if your teacher offers that, then great, take them up on that opportunity. If they do not offer it, then reach out and ask, um, that’s absolutely something that, um, your teachers should be willing to do.

Um, and like I said, hopefully, you know, uh, you know, returning to your classroom soon, if not already, and able to kind of, um, uh, you know, uh, conduct those more, more informal casual conversations. [00:26:00] So that’s a great segue into timeline. I said, here are the earlier the better, um, ideally the timeline we’re looking at is before the end of the junior year, um, we definitely have seen situations where, um, students maybe because they, to no fault of their own, they were not aware that they were, you know, um, having to ask the teacher for a letter of rec, um, which is, you know, that’s okay.

As soon as you find out, uh, even if it’s in your senior w if it’s in your senior year. Um, but we definitely want to make sure it’s at least a month before the actual application deadline. Um, the last thing you want to do is ask the teacher a week before or days before your application deadline. Um, and you know, your teacher’s probably not going to be in a very happy mood when they’re writing your letter of rec.

Um, because you’ve, you’ve requested this last minute. You know, we’re not anticipating it and it’s getting added to [00:27:00] their schedule, which is already, probably already busy. Um, so definitely give them at least a month heads up. The reason why we recommend before the end of your junior year is because generally a lot of students are asking during that fall of, uh, during the fall of senior year, as you’re starting to now get into the Headspace of college apps, um, and students are starting to now learn about letters, the breath learn about the different requirements for applications.

Um, and teachers are going to get inundated, especially. Especially the popular teachers, um, who you may have already had in mind, because maybe you have a positive relationship with them. Um, this teacher probably has positive relationships with, with, with many of their students. Um, so if you are planning to ask a teacher who you think is, you know, somebody that might be receiving, um, you know, recommendation requests from multiple people, even more, a reason to ask, uh, earlier, um, and by before [00:28:00] the end of the junior year, many teachers often take advantage of their summer summer break.

Um, so if you were to ask before the summer that they could potentially work on that work on that letter of rec, um, during kind of that downtime before, uh, before the fall, uh, the academic year begins in the fall. Um, and if they don’t, then at least they have it on their radar and they’ll have it, you know, planned into their fall as.

Um, so definitely, you know, we’re going to want to start thinking in your junior year about, Hmm, who are maybe two or three people that I want to ask, um, and then, you know, kind of start or a handful of people and start kind of narrowing it down. You also don’t necessarily have to ask. And, um, uh, and, and you’re not tied to that request.

So what I mean by that is I essentially, before the end of the junior year, you can, you can talk to your teacher and say, Hey, you know, I am planning to [00:29:00] apply to, you know, these, these, these schools. I’m going to have to submit a letter of recommendation, you know, um, I, I will ask you again in the fall, you know, I’ll come to you in the fall, but I just want to put it on your radar.

That you’re one of my favorite teachers and I’d love to receive a letter of recommendation from you. Um, so in a way you are asking you’re, you’re, you’re putting it on their radar. You’re, you’re making sure that they’re aware of it, but you’re also putting it out there that, you know, I’m going to come back to you in the fall.

Um, so the reason for that is because you want to make sure that if they have some kind of, you know, um, uh, some number that they’re saying, okay, in addition to all of my, my school duties, my teaching duties, I’ll only be able to handle that. 30 letters of rec this year or 10 letters of breakfast year. You just want to make sure you get yourself into one of those slots.

Um, so you wanna, you wanna plant that seed [00:30:00] and, uh, and make sure that, you know, they’re aware of that. Uh, and that’s, that kind of ties into what I was mentioning earlier, too. Whether that’s the drop in informal conversation, or you’re reaching out to your teacher to say, Hey, can we do a one-on-one zoom session or, um, you know, you, you stop by your teacher and say, Hey, can I stop by during tomorrow’s March?

I want to talk with you. Um, and you know, making it a little bit more, um, uh, formal, um, ideally you want to have that conversation about you don’t want it to be just a request in passing. Uh, you know, you’re just kind of walking by your desk and say, Hey, you know, I have letters of rec coming up, you know, can I count on you?

You want it to be a more thoughtful, ask a thoughtful request in a, in a conversation around, you know, what schools are you considering applying to? What majors are you interested in? Why did you ask this teacher? What are some things that you have really admired about this person? What, [00:31:00] what are the things that you’ve really appreciated about your relationship or their class?

So you want to have, um, you know, a more sincere conversation than just kind of, you know, throwing the question and the ask out there. Oh, I had it on the next slide. So how can I ask for a letter of recommendation? So ideally yes. You want to ask in person or a zoom meeting? Sorry, I didn’t, I didn’t flip to the next slide quickly enough.

Um, but yes, you want to have, you know, kind of a dedicated conversation, not with, you know, students kind of swirling around and, you know, asking at the end of class or the beginning of class, you want to kind of make it a, um, a thoughtful time where it’s just you and the teacher, even if it’s a brief five to 10 minute conversation.

Um, and that’s why I recommend, you know, taking advantage of, you know, the lunch break or, you know, um, if you know of your, your teachers kind of schedule and you know, that they’re kind of like, uh, ascending says that they spend a certain time inside their classroom, whether it’s during their free [00:32:00] period before school or after school, if you’re aware of that, um, then, then try to make sure.

Um, that conversation happened during those times where, you know, you’re going to have a little bit of a more private conversation with them. So yeah. You want to talk a little bit about, um, yes. Your school and your majors and, and, you know, showing from the back, um, the personal interest that you have in this particular teacher.

Um, not saying that you need to necessarily be schmoozing with your teacher and buttering them up. Um, but all teachers love to feel appreciated. Um, and hearing the reasons why you have decided to ask them for them letter of recommendation, compared to all the other teachers that you’ve had in high school.

You know, that’s a great way to, to, to even just establish that connection, um, and to open up a conversation about, you know, their college experience, um, any advice that they might have for you going into college or even approaching, um, college application season. So you want to be able to have [00:33:00] Berlin that just kind of open conversation with them.


Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: thank you so much, Angela. So we just want to take a quick pause to get a sense of, you know, speak. We’re speaking about letter recommendations, um, who in the audience has already started reaching out to potential recommenders? So our question is, have you started reaching out to potential recommenders?

So majority of our audience telling Angela have not started, and I know that they’re here tonight because they are learning the strategies. Um, so about 79% have not started, but we do have about 20% that have started. So I will I’ll turn it back over to you,

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: Angela. Okay. So those are strong numbers. I mean, 20% have already started reaching out.

That’s great. Um, and like I said, you know, for the other 80%, you’re not [00:34:00] behind, you’re not late. Um, and I’m glad that, you know, we’re having this webinar in March and you’re attending this webinar in March because the end of junior year is still, um, months away. So you definitely have time, you know, before summer to ask your teacher.

Um, so now is a great time to start thinking about, um, who you want to ask me. Like I said, start a short list. Um, if you feel like you, you can’t really think of any teachers who you’d want to ask, start having conversations with all of your teachers, um, maybe you just have not had that opportunity yet to get to know your teachers on a more personal basis.

Um, and it’s not too late now to start, you know, um, becoming more engaged in. You know, dropping in during their free period or during, um, you know, uh, some of those times I mentioned earlier, when you can have more of a private conversation with them, um, whether it’s just more casual conversations to, um, before or after class.

Um, so those are all great [00:35:00] ways to even just start initiating more interactions with your teachers. And then see, you know, after having had a few conversations with all of your teachers, the, who are the ones that, you know, I’ve felt more of a connection with who are the ones who, you know, I feel like if I asked them for a letter of recommendation, they have some really strong and nice things to say about me.

Um, so I started thinking about that now, and then whether your school year ends in may or in June, you have quite a bit of time to start having those conversations. So, um, on this slide here, we’re looking at what should I provide my teacher? Um, so if you’re asking your teacher or your counselor for a letter of recommendation, a couple of things that you want to have, um, and I would also speak with your counselor first, before approaching your teacher because for some high schools and this not all high schools, but some, um, have a process for, for requesting a letter of recommendation and your school might be one of them, uh, and your, [00:36:00] your, um, counselor will be able to share that information with you.

So for example, some schools will say, if you want to ask your counselor or your teacher for a letter of recommendation, fill out this form, and there’ll be several questions because they are trying to make an effort to get to know you and have something to go off of, um, some more content and some more information about you.

I say, write their letters so they can be as thorough as possible. So a resume if you don’t have one already, if you don’t think that you have enough to say to, to build a resume. That’s okay. You still want to talk a little bit about some of the things that you’re involved in some of the clubs, clubs at school clubs, outside of school, whatever your extracurricular activities are, that can be your resume.

Um, you can also, uh, flesh out your resume by including things like the information, um, uh, regarding the schools and majors that you’re applying to. You can indicate your interests. I’m really interested. I, right now I’m kind of torn between, um, [00:37:00] maybe studying law or maybe studying, um, history. Um, uh, you know, I, I know that I’m interested in both of those fields, but I’m still undecided right now.

You could even mention just little notes like that it’ll help your counselor or your teacher understand a little bit more and just also help them remember to, because you may have a wonderful conversation with them. Um, but your counselor or teacher has many, many other students too. And. Very possible that you know, to no fault of their own, um, you know, they might forget something that you told them or something that you, you talked about now for teachers, something called a Brack sheet.

Um, like I said, some schools require this, um, but if they don’t, this is a really helpful tool. Um, it might feel a little bit awkward or uncomfortable, uh, writing a BRAC sheet and presenting your teacher with it. Um, I, I would maybe not present it at the first time you ask your teacher, you know, um, you can let them know, Hey, I’m planning to [00:38:00] ask you for a letter of rec.

Um, do you have the availability to do that for me later this year? Um, you know, if so, you know, I’d be happy to. You to, to send you a brat sheet or two to provide you with the Brack sheets that might help you write your letter of recommendation. I’ll just jot some things on there. Just about, um, things that you might not know about me because I’ve done them out into the classroom.

That’s how you can kind of phrase that. Um, so they will be gentle reminders of things that you’ve done well, or you’re proud of, um, whether it’s in their classroom or outside of personally. Um, I think that’s, you know, making note of those things that are really memorable to you within their classrooms would be stronger.

Um, but if you can think of those and that’s okay, you can refer to, you know, other examples outside the class and, and the reason why, you know, I’m more of an advocate for writing about, um, for making sure that your letter of recommendation includes things that are very specific to that teacher or that classroom is [00:39:00] because let’s say you asked two teachers for letters of.

And, um, uh, you know, they’re writing very similar things about you, then it’s not necessarily, there’s a second. One’s not really helping your applications is kind of echoing the first one. Um, so that’s why I could make these personal so that each of your letters is unique. Um, so if you are asking three teachers, um, then you want to make sure that you have three kind of different back sheets.

You can say like the bulk of, you know, these are the main things about me, but also in your classroom, I’ve really enjoyed XYZ. I’ve really appreciated, you know, ABC. So you want to make those just a little bit more personal to put in that little extra.

Okay. So how big a part do letters of rec play? Um, uh, these are just some stats. Here’s the 15% report that they are considerably important and almost half the, they say that they are moderately important. Um, and I say that even 15%. [00:40:00] And a stat that you want to be part of that. Um, so again, you know, just wanting to make sure that your letter of rec is including helpful information, um, that boost your application.

Um, and also since COVID-19, um, and, um, you know, standardized testing, um, kind of being eliminated or becoming optional, um, letters of recommendation oftentimes can even matter more than they have in the past now. All right. So final tip to wrap up, um, the importance of relationships, um, your teacher. While you are approaching them for the purpose of them writing a letter of recommendation, that’s going to help your application.

Yes. There is a purpose to your request. Um, but, but really this is a wonderful opportunity, uh, you know, in your attempts to build and maintain this relationship, um, [00:41:00] to have to build a really, really strong connection with somebody who could end up being a mentor to you. Um, I have, I have heard of students, um, and, and even just a personal anecdotes of, you know, um, students building very strong relationships and connections with their teachers who have been introduced them to others in their field, you know, um, and, you know, had really great, you know, informational conversations about what they do in their careers or their college experience even connected them to volunteering or internship opportunities.

So, you know, there can be, you know, more in more ways than one having strong relationships with your teachers. Uh, really beneficial to you, um, hearing about their stories and their journeys. You know, that’s really kind of the, uh, the value and the strength of having a strong mentor in your life, um, plays and that they are able to impress the wisdom from their experiences.

What have they learned from the mistakes they’ve made along the way? What has been learned from the successes they’ve had along the way, and how can they kind of pass that [00:42:00] torch down to you and talk that knowledge down to you. Teachers our wealth of information and a wealth of knowledge, definitely take advantage of the fact that you have this person in your life.

Um, so you also want to make sure that you are thinking and recommending your recommenders. Um, you know, I would recommend that you send your thank you note or, um, you know, show your appreciation, you know, sooner than later. So if they write it for you sometime in the fall, you want to see about, um, showing that appreciation, um, uh, before, you know, the, the start of the next year, or at least, you know, and then going back and sharing with them to the colleges that you’ve been accepted to.

Um, that is a very, very, just rewarding kind of, um, closing the loop, a full circle moment for teachers, knowing that they’ve been involved in your college access, your college application journey. Um, some do make sure to go back to your letter, your, [00:43:00] your recommended, your recommenders, um, and share with them, the colleges that you’ve been accepted to.

And most certainly we’ll call it. You choose to attend, um, uh, once you’ve made that decision.

Okay. Thank you, Angela.

Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: So, um, now we’re going to jump into our live Q and a, so that concludes our presentation portion. Um, so I know we started to get a good amount of questions, uh, while you were presenting. And so the first question is I am home. I’m a homeschool student. I attend online classes at several online high schools.

Also take college classes at the same time. How do you recommend I, or other students like me go about getting letters of recommendation since I’m not really part of the high school committee?

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: Yeah, that’s a really, that’s a really great question. Um, I know for homeschooled [00:44:00] students, the process can be a lot trickier and a lot more complicated than it is for students kind of traditional, uh, attending a traditional school.

I’m happy to hear that you are taking classes already at the college level, um, and that you’re being taught by faculty members that you know, your local community colleges too. Um, if you have the option of choosing between a high school teacher and a community college teacher, I would 100% recommend asking the community college, um, professor, um, because, you know, even if it has been just online classes, that’s absolutely fine.

Send you a professor, an email. If you end up asking a high school, one of your teachers, an email, um, request as well, then you’ve just sent them an email, but didn’t know that you have really enjoyed the subject matter. You’ve really enjoyed the assignments, any projects that you’ve worked on. Um, so make sure that you’re kind of focusing on what you gained from the class, because, um, maybe [00:45:00] because this has been a remote class, you haven’t really been able to interact with the teacher one-on-one, um, or even been able to be that interactive.

I know that sometimes with remote classes, everyone just. Shuts off their camera and it’s not people aren’t really engaging and that’s not just, that’s just not the culture of that particular class and that’s not really under your control. Um, so if that’s the case, you know, certainly email your teacher or professor, um, let them know, you know, your planning to apply to college in a few months and letters of recommendation, or, you know, I’m going to be an important factor for you.

You loved their class, you loved the way they teach. Um, and yeah, and you know, you’d love to have. Uh, a short one-on-one conversation with them and you can arrange that, you know, at the virtual meeting. Um, and that’s where you can kind of dive into some of the things I mentioned earlier today, telling them a little bit more about yourself.

I’m sure they’ve lost to learn about you. I’m sure your college professor is [00:46:00] super impressed by, um, you know, uh, high school they’re taking their class. Um, so, so that letter of recommendation from a faculty member can be very impactful because there’ll be able to speak to, um, your ability to Excel academically alongside, um, you know, older college level students.

Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: Great. Okay. Next question is you talked about getting letters of recommendations by teachers who taught in a core subject. Also teachers you have no longer. If I have a teacher who I’ve been with for three years, um, who my music teacher would that be preferable to a teacher who teaches a core subject, but I’ve known for less time.

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: Yeah. So, so this can depend, um, oftentimes, uh, for some, some colleges they will specify, please submit a, a letter of recommendation from a teacher who has taught you in a core academic subject. So if that is specified, [00:47:00] then you definitely want to follow the rule, um, and go with the academic subjects teacher.

Um, if it’s not specified, uh, then, then, then, you know, th th the teacher, you have a stronger relationship with the music teacher who has taught you for three years. Um, that would be, that would be great. And, and, uh, more than likely you won’t be limited to just one letter of recommendation. Um, so you could potentially help both.

Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: Um, typically, do we get to read our confirm letter recommendations before sending them to college?

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: Um, so I would recommend that you waive your rights to read that letter of recommendation. Um, a it’s not necessarily a huge deal. It’s not necessarily bad. If a college sees that you had access to the letter, they’re going to discount it necessarily.

However, um, [00:48:00] uh, Yeah, it’s not, I would say it’s not as significant. Um, if you have the option to waive your right to read it then, and do you like it will be presented that option. Um, and you know, you can, you can go for that. Um, oftentimes your teacher, so essentially the way that teachers submit their letters of recommendation is through, um, a portal system.

Um, they won’t necessarily be giving you the letter of rec for you to submit they submitted directly. Um, so sometimes you have the option to see it, um, to be, uh, sometimes you don’t, um, Not necessarily advocates very strongly, either way. Um, there are different opinions on this. Some people do think that waiving the right to, to view it, um, is, you know, incrementally stronger, um, uh, having been an AOL, uh, having [00:49:00] known many AOS, um, it it’s, it’s not that big of a deal.

Okay. Um,

Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: let me see the next question. Oh, here it goes. I’ve already gotten accepted to colleges and my parents told me, yes, congratulations. My parents told me I should get recommendation letters just in case I do a scholarship that requires it. Should I ask teachers about writing electric letter recommendation that doesn’t necessarily have a deadline?

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: Oh, that is a great question. Um, Without having more information. Um, if you already know that you will be needing the letters of rec or that it’s very likely that you’ll be needing it, for example, you’ve already started a scholarship application, or you’re already looking at, you’re already exploring scholarships that have letters of rec as one of their required components.

Um, then, then certainly [00:50:00] I would, um, I would ask your teacher, uh, for that, because you want to ask before you graduate, if not, uh, I would at least just kind of plant the seed, let your teachers know, Hey, I’m I’m I want to apply to scholarships. Um, that’s kind of the next thing on my to-do list. Now I might have a letter of rec I need to submit, especially if this is a teacher who has already submitted a letter of rec, a written one for you in the past, um, you know, while it’s fresh in their mind, they’ll, they’ll be able to, you know, write up a, a stronger one for you.

I, I don’t know that I’d recommend for you to ask your teacher just to have it in your back pocket, just in case I need this in the future. I’ll just ask my teacher for it. Um, just because you don’t necessarily, we don’t want to burden teachers with a, uh, uh, with, with this request. Um, so that being said, you know, I’d really kind of think about what is your relationship with this teacher?

Is it somebody that you’re really, really close with? You know, that they’d be more than happy to do [00:51:00] it. Um, they’ve already written you a letter of rec in the past. They just have to kind of tweak it to make it more general and not, not school specific. Um, I would assess kind of a few of those things before asking.

Um, uh, I know that some, some people have, um, uh, uh, wanted to just kind of have like a general letter of recommendation to keep, um, That could be something that you consider. I would absolutely let your teacher know though that that’s what that is and that you’re not planning to use it for any specific reason anytime soon.

And that way you can help them prioritize, you know, their, uh, responsibilities as well.

Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: Okay. This question kind of connects to it as well. If I choose to not go to college right after high school and wait awhile, should I still ask for

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: recommendations? [00:52:00] Yeah, I would. Um, I would actually take a step above. And instead of asking your teacher, now, I would ask for their contact information because once you graduate from school, it is a little bit more difficult to stay in touch with your, um, with the school administration and teachers.

Um, If you’re planning to take a gap year and apply, you know, in a year or in two years, and you know, you’ll need the letters of rec later. Um, it’s going to be a lot. Your letter of rec will be a lot stronger if you had one. Um, that’s written at that time. So maybe one or two years from now, that’s able to speak to your more recent activities rather than submitting a letter of rec that was written a year ago.

Um, and they wrote about the you that they knew a year ago, who could potentially be a very different person. Now you’ve maybe whatever you’ve done in your gap year, you’ve traveled. You’ve had a job, you’ve done an internship. You may have [00:53:00] matured and developed significantly in the past year. So you would want your letter of rec to reflect that.

Um, so instead of asking them for something to have now, um, uh, I would say, you know, I’m planning to do, do, to do a gap year. I’m planning to take some time before I applied to college, I want to spend some more time preparing. But I’d love to ask you for a letter of recommendation in the future. When I am ready to apply, you know, how can I stay in touch with you?

Um, and then, you know, stay in touch with them. Um, don’t let a year pass by before you pop up and say, Hey, it’s me again. Um, remember that request, I bookmarked for you a year ago. I’m ready now. Instead of that, you know, it doesn’t have to be frequent communication. Maybe it’s once every three months, maybe it’s, you know, once every few months just to drop that, drop a line and say, Hey, you know, um, I’m doing what I told you.

I was going to do. I’m in my internship. I’m having a great time. And the hope all is, well, something like that, just, you know, it doesn’t have to be, [00:54:00] you know, long conversations with them, but just something to kind of keep that connection going.

Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: Okay, we’re going to take a short pause. I can share with you all a little bit more about CollegeAdvisor.

Um, for those who are in the room, who aren’t already working with us, we know that the college admission process can be overwhelming for parents and students alike. Our team of over 300 former admission officers in emission experts are ready to help you and your family navigated all in 1-on-1 advising sessions and last year’s admission cycle.

Our students were accepted into Harvard at three times, the national rate and accepted into Stanford as 4.4 times the national. Sign up for a free consultation with us by registering for our free web platform at And again, that is Their students and their families can explore [00:55:00] webinars, keep track of application deadlines, research schools, learn more about letter recommendation and so much more all on our website.

Okay. So Angela, we have time for a couple of more questions about two more questions. So let’s see.

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: Um, did

Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: and Angela, have you seen any that you, that like stood out to you?

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: Um, this is one,

Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: um, is there a template, um, like, should you like give suggestions, like to the letter recommend like letter of recommend or the recommenders on what’s.

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: Oh, um, uh, not necessarily there, uh, there isn’t a, you know, uh, a standard letter of recommendations format. Um, many teachers kind of write them to their own style.

Um, however, this is [00:56:00] really where that brag sheet, um, can, can come into play because, um, you’re not necessarily telling them what to say, but you’re helping them think of ideas and, and believe me, the teachers will really appreciate that. Um, like I mentioned earlier, you know, teachers have so many students, um, and, you know, have no new for, even if it’s just been one year or maybe they’ve known you for a couple of years or more.

Um, if you were to sit down and to write your personal statement or your college essays, that can, maybe you haven’t started yet, but you will find when you do start then. Be quite challenging to think about like, goodness, you know, what are some experiences that I had in college that I want to talk about?

What are some things that have happened to me that are really memorable? What are the stories that I want to tell? And this can be really difficult to, even for you to think about for yourself. So for a teacher to try to sit and think from the last couple of years about you and [00:57:00] their interactions with you, um, you know, that, that can be a little bit challenging not to say that it’s impossible, but it would just be super helpful if you said, you know, these are some like just, it doesn’t even have to be, um, a whole laundry list.

It could just be a handful of thing that you mentioned, um, that have been some standout moments for you in their classrooms. Um, that could just be really helpful for them to say, oh yeah, that was a really great moment. I loved being a part of that experience as their teacher. Um, so it was just kind of helping them to jog their memory.

So the broadsheets really, really great, but no template, no, no necessary, like not necessarily a standard format or a letter.

Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: Okay. Um, do you need to know what colleges you apply to and have completed your application before asking for a recommendation? That’s a great question to clarify.

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: No, you can definitely ask your, your teacher.

Um, like I said, the earlier the better let them know that you’re planning on [00:58:00] doing these, you know, you can let them know the school that you’re planning to apply to. Um, you might be applying to 15 schools and maybe only 10 schools require a letter of rec. So they, they might not even be, uh, writing a letter that will go to all 15.

Um, so, so all of those pieces will kind of fall into place, um, in your senior year fall, as you start to compose your application and put that together, but absolutely you can ask them in advance. And like I said, we encourage you to ask them in advance before summer. Um, just to kind of plant that seed, let them know what’s coming down the pipeline.

And, uh, and they will absolutely appreciate just having the heads up and looking at the Q and a box here as well and saying, okay. If I were to ask my boss for a recommendation letter, would it reflect badly on me? If the quality of writing was not college level? Definitely not. Um, even if it wasn’t your employer, even if it was [00:59:00] a teacher who, um, whose whose writing skills were not great, maybe they’re your, I don’t want to make any stereotype here.

So I’m gonna say subjects, maybe it was your math teacher, um, who doesn’t, you know, they’re, they’re not, um, they’re not writing novels on the side. So, um, so maybe their letter of rec is not going to have that stylistically the best writing compared to if you asked a different teacher, um, that. It has absolutely no weight and no bearing on the reflection of you, um, or the quality of your application.

So same thing applies to your boss as well.

Lonnie Webb, Admissions Expert: Okay, well, that actually is going to conclude our webinar for this evening. I hope you all enjoy learning more about college recommendation letters. Thank you, Angela Park-Pennington for all the great information that you share this evening. I [01:00:00] learned a lot about, you know, college recommendation letters as I am one of our senior advisors with college advisors.

So I’m going to be sharing more of this information with my students. And so thank you once again, everyone for participating, just giving you all the heads up that we have more webinars that are coming up for this month. So please check again, our website at and you can get more information about our webinars.

Um, everyone have a great evening and that is the end of this

Angela Park-Pennington, Former Admissions officer: webinar. Thank you everyone. Thank you.