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What to Know About Letters of Recommendation for Colleges

 

At St. Mary’s Academy, most students receive two teacher recommendations and one counselor recommendation. In the spring of junior year, we ask students to submit a list of teachers who they believe could write an insightful letter. These are primarily drawn from their junior year academic classes, but sometimes a teacher from a prior year who they will have senior year, or who is their TA can be a good choice.

The college counselors assign teacher recommenders, usually choosing both a humanities perspective and a science/math perspective, as colleges appreciate that breadth of viewpoint. We also work to distribute the work of letter writing equitably across the faculty.

We ask faculty to preview the assignments to let us know if, for any reason, they feel another teacher is in a better position to write an insightful, strong letter (students are not always a good judge of this). Teachers who have seen students in a variety of contexts - eager to learn, working through difficulties, engaged in both group and individual work, and exhibiting growth – have valuable material to draw on for their letters.

We inform students in April who will write their recommendations. Most receive either their first or second choice writer, sometimes both. It is then the student’s responsibility before school is out, to formally ask the teacher for the recommendation and learn what additional information the teacher needs from them.

In the fall, students select colleges to apply to and deadlines for their application, and enter that information into Naviance. This allows counselors and faculty to know when the letters are due. We write letters in time for each student’s earliest deadline. Counselors upload and send letters electronically, along with the student’s transcript and a school profile, to each college a student has listed in Naviance. Occasionally a student applies only to universities that will not use letters to inform admissions decisions. In this case, we wait and write letters only as needed.