Now that your senior year is underway, it's time to line up your recommenders – they are key allies and advocates in this process.
Recommendations make a difference, and it is up to you to make sure that the recommendations you get will make a positive difference for you and influence the admissions officer in your favor.
1. Help your counselor help you. Admissions officers place a lot of weight on what school counselors have to say about an applicant in the school report, and a negative report can be the kiss of death. In other words, your school counselor is an important ally in the process, so respect the role they play. Follow the rules and work within the system, because your counselor is bound by school policies as much as you are). Give your counselor as much lead time as possible, and take any opportunity to let the counselor get to know you. You can read more advice about the school report, including specific tips for international students and homeschoolers, in chapter 18 of our book, How to Prepare a Standout Application, or in hints found in our Inline software.
2. Choose recommenders who can help you tell your story best. Go back to your story that you wrote in Week 2. Although you won’t always have a choice when it comes to your recommenders, when you do have a choice, you want to choose the recommenders who can help you tell your story best. Pick recommenders who know you well, who can speak about your positives and negatives based on direct experience, and who like you. If you have significant negatives to overcome (for example very low grades, or a disciplinary or criminal record), choose at least one recommender who can address these negatives either because of the recommender’s position or because of the recommender’s knowledge of and experience with you. Read more tips about choosing and working with recommenders in chapter 19 of our book How to Prepare a Standout Application, or in hints found in our Inline software.
3. Waive access to your recommendations. Under the law, you have the right to see your recommendations (and all other application materials that remain in your student record) after you have been admitted to and enroll in a college, unless you waive that right. The recommendation forms give you an opportunity to waive your rights to access. Typically, the only reason applicants decline to waive access is when applicants are concerned about what the recommender might say, and so they want to discourage the recommender from saying anything negative. That creates a new and equally serious problem: a recommendation that will not have much heft. When you do not waive access, you are not only sending a signal to the recommender, you are also sending a signal to the admissions officer, who might conclude that this recommendation cannot be fully trusted because the recommender could not be completely frank. Either waive access or choose a different recommender in whom you feel more confident.
4. Prepare for the virtual college events so you can make a positive impression. It's fine to treat these virtual college events as an information-gathering exercise on your part rather than a full-on sales pitch for your admission. But you still want to make a positive impression, because any contact you have with a school representative (whether an admissions officer, an alum, an administrator, or a current student ambassador) will make an impression that could affect the final admissions decision. You want to come across as an applicant who has done their homework about the college. Introduce yourself and ask questions or make comments that convey your genuine curiosity and interest in the college. Don’t just lurk on mute the whole time. Make sure you keep track of the names of the admissions representatives you meet and try to get contact information for them. Send a quick thank you via email after the event. If you do all this, you’ll leave the college reps feeling excited about the prospect of receiving an application from you.
Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the book How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.