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Elements of a strong recommendation letter

To get a standout recommendation letter for college, chat with your teacher. Share specific examples of your classroom achievements and leadership moments. This helps your teacher write a unique letter, not a boring template. Remember, colleges love details that show how you'll shine in their classrooms!

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Video transcript

- So when we're reading a recommendation letter, what we're looking for is what kind of presence you are in a classroom. And that's very important to us because, ultimately, what a university is is it's a lot of classrooms. It's a lot of people looking to discover new knowledge. - Teachers that can give anecdotes about a student in a classroom can be really helpful because we're trying to imagine this student in our classroom and we're wondering if this is a student that always is speaking up and always raising their hand, the student that the teacher would ask to watch the class if they had to leave the room for a minute. Or if this is a student who's fairly quiet and only speaks once in a while but when that student speaks, it kind of turns the conversation on its head. - What I recommend for students to do, and for you to do in this process, would be to sit down with that teacher, maybe even give them four or five bullet points of, you know, why you wanted them to write your letter of recommendation. Remind them what you did in their class. All right, so loved the group work, that was a real favorite of mine. I felt like that really gave me a chance to do some teaching in the class as well as learning. Or that paper that I wrote on Twain, James, and Howe I felt was a good representation of my writing ability. Or I really felt like that group project that we had to do allowed me to both be a participant but also a leader. And really, again, remind them of what you did in the class so they can write a much more personalized letter. The last thing in the world you want to get is sort of a template sort of a letter, where they're just sort of plugging in things about good student, always gets the work done, works hard. - The biggest thing we see with recommendations is what we call the template recommendation. Which is, basically, a very kind of form recommendation and all they need to do is take out the names, the activities, some of the personal attributes and replace them in order to describe one person but also describing 20 people. - So to really help your teachers write a terrific letter of recommendation that doesn't look like a template, you really want to get specific with those examples. Really let them know who you are, remind them who you were in their classroom because, basically, admissions officers, they like those anecdotes, they like the specificity. That's really going to help them understand you in the context of that classroom. - Another thing that I look for a lot in recommendations is something I call separating. So is your teacher saying, "This is a top student "in 10 years," are they separating you from the group? Or are they saying, "This is a good student"? Both of those are fine, but one does suggest that you are doing something extraordinary in the classroom that's making you stand out from the crowd.