26 Weeks to College — Week 8

Working Productively With Your Recommenders

Now that your senior year is underway, it's time to line up the third parties who are your key allies in the application process: your recommenders.

Your core recommendations typically come in the form of a school report from your school-based college counselor and two academic recommendations from your teachers. (The number of teacher recommendations might vary among your colleges.)

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. (Need to get caught up with previous weeks? We've posted them on our blog here.)

WEEK 8 TO-DOS


THIS WEEK

  • Finalize your second application. Finalizing is the crucial last step before submission. (You're not submitting applications yet! Hang onto them.)

  • Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like. Note: very few of you should have this to-do on your list because you are following Week 3's advice about exhibiting restraint when it comes to these kinds of materials.

  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to your school, your community, or a place near your home. Note these visits on your calendar and do your best to connect with the admissions representatives then.

  • Set up a meeting with your school counselor: If you haven't already met with your counselor, do that now.

  • Secure your teacher recommendations: Confirm your individual colleges' requirements for teacher recommendations (how many and in which subjects) and make appointments to meet with your recommenders if you haven't already done so at the end of 11th grade. Look out for specific requirements that might influence whom you ask to be a recommender. Ask for any scholarship recommendations at the same time.

  • Draft your second scholarship application.

  • Check whether there are new scholarship opportunities. Add the deadlines to your calendar and block out time to work on them.

  • Secure any recommendations necessary for scholarships. You can ask for these at the same time that you ask for your application recommendations.

  • Prep for your upcoming standardized tests. Pull up the test prep schedule you made for yourself in Week 4. It will only work if you work it! So go to it.


THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

    TIPS AND TRICKS

  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. What the admissions officer learns from the school report will have a direct bearing on your academic rating by the admissions officer. 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 (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.

  2. Choose recommenders who can help you tell your story best. Go back to your story that you wrote in Week 2. Although you don’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 (very low grades, 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.

  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 visits from college representatives. It's fine to treat these visits from school reps as an information-gathering exercise on your part rather than an official interview. You don't have to sell yourself overtly, but be mindful that any contact you have with a school representative (whether an admissions officer, an alum, an administrator, or the secretary answering the phone) 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 that is visiting your turf, and express genuine interest in that college. You want those college reps to leave feeling excited about the prospect of receiving an application from you.