2 years ago
Admissions Advice

Reccomendation Letter

Hello, I'm confused about the purpose of a recommendation letter. And is it really important for colleges?


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Accepted Answer
2 years ago[edited]

Yes, recommendation letters are very important for college admissions. They are not important for gaining admission to 2-year community colleges but the harder the college is to get into, the more important they are.

In other countries, like China, S.Korea, and Japan, for example, college admission is a black-and-white meritocratic process. You take a college entrance exam or a high school exiting exam and how you score on that exam determines whether you get into Tokyo University, Tsinghua, or Seoul National University.

In America, college admissions is a very complicated process that includes a lot of other factors because colleges serve multiple purposes in American society, tradition, and history. Even the most STEM-focused colleges like MIT have a tradition of varsity sports, clubs, Greek Life, and other facets that have nothing to do with academics or higher education. One could say that Top Colleges in America are not only places to get a marketable degree in CS but they are places where you establish future networks of professional colleagues, where you meet your people socially and stay friends with them, where you hone your sports/athletic abilities, where you pursue your passions and eccentricities outside of the classroom like activism, painting, writing poetry, incubating businesses.

This is why the college admissions process is so similar at all Top schools using a holistic evaluation versus a binary evaluation of your standardized test scores. As part of this holistic evaluation, colleges want to know if they are admitting those cohorts that have the best human qualities and personal character. You can not advocate for yourself objectively on this. Therefore, most top colleges ask for 3 recommendations, 2 from teachers and 1 from your high school counselor. Most people stick to this format however you should get your recommendations from the people that best know you, how you think, observed your positive attributes firsthand, and can vouch objectively for your integrity, judgment and kindness. In some cases, this might be a sports coach or a private tutor, or a librarian. It really doesn't matter who but keep in mind it should be someone who advocates for you in a positive light.

Similarly, many T25 colleges will have either a required interview or an optional interview. The purpose of this is related and very similar. After a brief in-person meeting or zoom call, the interviewer will write up their interview notes and subsequent recommendation to either advocate for you or not. Therefore, this is yet another safeguard colleges take to ensure they are admitting only the best candidates that fit their admissions profile for the kinds of potential cohorts they wish to shape the freshman class with.

Most HS school students wait until the last minute to ask teachers and their counselors for a recommendation. This is a huge mistake. Make sure you pick someone that knows you best because asking your Calculus teacher who has to write 25 other recommendations may not have anything significant to write about if you are not the very best student in their class that goes out of their way to help others.

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