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There are many components to a college application, most of which are required. These may include completion of the actual application, an official academic transcript, one or more essays, standardized test scores, a resume, and letters of recommendation. If you consider these components, the only aspect that addresses not just what you have accomplished but who you are as a person and a student are those personalized recommendations.
Colleges vary in what they each require, and your first step is to go online and verify exactly what your particular colleges require with regards to letters of recommendation. Most require the School Report from your counselor and at least one recommendation from a teacher. Some more selective colleges require two teacher recommendations plus the counselor report. Given that many colleges have suspended test score requirements and more high schools are adopting Pass/Fail grading systems, admission officers will probably lean more heavily on recommendation letters in making decisions.
Once you have verified exactly how many letters are required, you must move to the next step of figuring out which teachers to approach. These letters represent the part of your application that makes you “real”, helps you stand out, and adds insights into your academic strengths and learning style. Recommendations application to life and provides an opportunity for someone to consider you in classroom. In order to provide your recommenders with more ways of getting to know you in the virtual classroom, here are some things to do:
Turn on your camera when appropriate. Let him/her recognize your face and get to know the person behind the voice.
Participate in the virtual classroom. Ask questions, interact and if s/he creates online break-out groups, participate in a leadership role.
Let your teachers see that you are eager to engage and learn, however challenging the new environment feels.
Be respectful in the virtual classroom. Don’t engage in silly comments on the chat/conversation function.
Do more: ask the teacher for an after-class conversation about material that is challenging, offer to create an extracurricular club, ask for book or podcast recommendations to supplement the online materials.
COVID-19 has changed the typical manner by which students have historically obtained their all-important teacher recommendations. Many high school students have not sat in the classroom for most of 2020, and still now, in early 2021, many are still not attending school in person. In this case, your approach to gaining good recommendations must adapt. It is still important to create a document or resume that lists your important personal and academic achievements. Provide good information to your teachers about things you have accomplished while outside the classroom and learning virtually. Shed light on your career goals so your teachers can see your ambitions and why that matters, and tell them which colleges and majors you are applying to. Once you have prepared this informative document, consider which teacher to approach. If you are applying to a STEM program, you may want to select a Math/Science teacher and an Arts/Language teacher. If you have struggled in a particular class and that teacher has coached you and you’ve improved your grades through hard work and determination, consider approaching her or him. If you’ve been particularly involved with any specific class, ask that teacher. You will need to submit your request for a recommendation by email so above all, be polite, use good grammar, spelling and punctuation, personalize each one and attach your previously prepared document. While juniors do not generally have to ask their teachers for recommendations until fall of senior year, it’s a good idea to reach out to teachers now and give them a heads up that you hope they will be willing to write on your behalf.
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