Welcome to part six of What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? This time, we will discuss a critical part of your application over which you have almost no control. You don’t even get to see it: you recommendation letters. Who should I ask to write a recommendation for me? That’s pretty much the only question this time, ’cause it’s the only thing you get to decide.
You should ask teachers from your Junior or Senior year who taught an AP or IB class in which you made an A. Preferably, you will ask teachers who know who you are and like you. If possible, pick a teacher who can talk about something amazing you did for class – if you did a project that went above and beyond what was required, that would be a great thing for them to talk about in their recommendation, right? If you know them through a club or extracurricular activity in addition to acing their course, that’s a plus, too.
The main thing, though, is to get As in their courses. These teachers have to write recommendations every year, and I bet most of them have it down to a science (or a form letter with blanks where your name goes). As long as you did well and didn’t antagonize them, chances are they will write you a wonderful, glowing recommendation. Just trust them, be polite and gracious, and take it easy.
Most elite schools require two teacher recommendations, so you may want to pick one humanities teacher and one math/science teacher, although it depends on what you want to study in college. I asked my U.S. History teacher and my IB Music/Orchestra teacher for recommendations, for instance. I believe a high school counselor recommendation is often required as well, although, since you have no control over who that is, there isn’t really anything you can do or worry about in this area. I remember our counselors had us fill out a questionnaire that our counselors could use to pretend they knew who we were (at a school with 800 graduating seniors, who could blame them?), so that part was very low stress for me. As long as you don’t have some sort of epic feud with your high school counselor, that should be fine.
In addition to these required recommendations, you also have the option of submitting additional, supplementary recommendations. Remember that your college admissions officers have thousands of applications to go through, so if you do submit an extra recommendation, it had better be good: only consider doing this if there is an adult who knows you well and they are either someone who can write about something impressive you did outside of school or they are someone famous/important/powerful. For instance, if you are really into volunteering and led a big volunteering project, you might have your adult sponsor write a recommendation about your accomplishments. I personally did not submit any extra recommendations, so they really aren’t necessary. If you have something really impressive, though, go for it.
The same goes for other supplementary materials. I did submit a CD and scores of pieces of music I wrote, since music and my ambitions as a composer were a running theme throughout my application, and I like to think my pieces were pretty impressive for a high school kid. These parts of the application are truly optional, so if you don’t have supplementary materials, don’t worry about it.
That pretty much wraps up all the stuff that’s actually in your application. So, now what do you do with it? Next time we will discuss application strategy, which can be critical in getting you in. Until then, keep studying!
This post is part of a series. Other posts in this series include: