While high school seniors grapple with the anxiety of making final college choices by National Decision Day on May 1, high school juniors are finally beginning to grasp what lies ahead for them in choosing a college of their own, completing application forms, and applying for financial aid. While you don’t have to worry about filing the FAFSA until October 1, some of the application deadlines can come up much sooner than you may realize.
If you are considering trying for an early decision or early action admissions submission, you will have a lot to do over the summer to get those applications completed properly. Check each college’s website carefully to determine how they want you to apply. Some use the Common App or another universal application, possibly with their own extra requirements, or some have their own form. Sometimes you have to submit a portfolio or a video, or participate in some type of audition, depending on your major.
The one thing most colleges have in common is that they usually want you to submit one or two letters of recommendation. Look on the website to determine how many letters are required, what format is utilized, and how they are to be submitted. Some colleges have their own template for completing a letter of recommendation. Once you know how each college wants the letters submitted, you should start asking for any letters from teachers before the school year ends. Teachers are often unavailable, difficult to contact, or very busy during the summer months. Some have other jobs, take additional classes, or simply like to focus on their own vacation activities.
If you wait until the fall, you might be surprised to find that a favored teacher has retired or moved on to another school system. If you get this part of the application process completed now, that will leave more time to concentrate on your essays and the rest of the application form during the summer. Here are some steps you can use to help make sure those letters help boost your chances of acceptance at your number one college:
• Choose recommenders carefully: Think about which adults really know your capabilities the best. Perhaps there is a teacher who also coaches you in a sport that can provide insights on both your academic and athletic capabilities. Some colleges want a letter from your counselor, and sometimes you might want a letter from somebody outside the school environment. If you are excelling at a job, or have participated in local charitable causes, you might want to look to your supervisor in those activities. There might be a person who witnessed you facing some type of challenge who can describe what you did to overcome it.
• Be prepared: Provide a list of the colleges you are applying to, along with the recommender requirements for each, and highlight deadlines. If an online form is required, provide the correct website address. If a paper form is requested, print out a copy for the recommender to use, and supply a pre-addressed and stamped envelope.
• Ask politely: Take a moment before or after class, or set an appointment after school, to discuss the letter. State why you think he or she would be a good person to write the letter, and remind him or her about your capabilities. You might want to include a brief outline of your accomplishments, in case the teacher is not aware of everything you have done outside of class.
• Follow-up and thanks: Most colleges will show the status of your application. If the letter has not yet been received, follow-up politely and ask when it will be submitted. Remember to thank everyone who helps you in this process.
Another reason to ask now is that you are probably not the only student asking this person for a letter of recommendation. If you wait until the end of summer, or beginning of senior year, that person may very well be inundated with requests. That leaves less time to think about you and write a great letter that truly reflects your personality and uniqueness.