Seniors: How do you request recommendation letters?

By Rajkamal Rao  

Most colleges use online recommendation platforms. Image Courtesy: UT Austin

Seniors often ask me the best way to send recommendation letters to colleges.

The first advice we have is to identify who it would be that would write you a recommendation letter. Someone who knows you really well and can speak to your strengths (and weaknesses) is always the best choice. Let's suppose this is Mrs. Robinson, your AP English Language teacher.

You would send Mrs. Robinson a polite email requesting her to write you a recommendation letter - and why you're asking her to do the honors. A few pleasant words about how much you enjoyed her classes - or working with her outside the classroom - would help. Attach your resume so that she knows your entire profile. And tell her the list of schools you're applying to (including their deadlines) so that she can plan her work. If she's a good teacher, several students just like you will be approaching her for recommendation letters, so any information that you can provide which will help her prioritize her schedule is a no-brainer.

Follow up on the email by walking into her office and reminding her that you wrote her an email. Ask her if there's anything she's looking for which will help her write the letter. And tell her that she should shortly be seeing links from colleges and universities in your list.

Requesting recommendation links

Now that you have prepared your recommenders, it's time for you to have those links sent.  Requesting recommendation links works differently based on the application platform you're using (Common App, ApplyTex, Coalition App, etc).

Before you start filling out the Common App, check out this link for the supporting information that you must have to successfully complete the application. As you come to the end of the Common App, there is a section that allows you to select which teachers, counselors, and advisors from whom you want recommendations. At this stage, you will also waive your FERPA rights - see the UT Austin step-by-step process below to understand what FERPA is.

When you're done with the FERPA step, a link is sent to each of these people, via email. They will fill out an individual evaluation (rating you on a scale of 1 to 5 using various factors) and type in the recommendation letter into a box on the Common App form. When they "save and submit" their recommendation letters, these evaluations are saved in the Common App database and will stay there until you apply to the college of your choice. You can verify that the letters are submitted by logging into the Common App - the status will show "Submitted".

Note that the recommendation letters are designed to be generic, so your teacher should refrain from indicating the name of your desired college on the recommendation letter. This is also to prevent the hassle of asking your teachers for letters again and again for every college that is in your list.

As you complete your application to a particular college from the Common App, the tool will ask you to verify if the list of recommenders is still accurate. When you confirm, the Common App sends a notification to your target institution to "download" the recommendation letters from the Common App database. You can see the status as "Downloaded" when a college has done just that.

For UT Austin, the process is different because ApplyTex, UT's application platform, does not have the Common App feature of sending recommendation links. So, UT Austin designed its own system from its MyStatus page. We illustrate this process for UT Austin below:

1. Log in to UT's MyStatus page. You can only do this after you have completed your ApplyTex or Coalition App, paid the fee, and have received your UT EID.

2. On the Admission tab in MyStatus, click on "Document Upload Requests."

3. Click on "Select Other Doc Type"

4. Choose "Letters of Recommendation" from the dropdown and select the radio button "send a request to someone to upload a document for you." You can request three letters, typically from your science, language arts, math, or social studies teachers. You may also submit up to two optional letters of recommendation - from teachers, mentors, or people who know you well, either within or outside of your high school. The letter should give additional context or information to support your admission that is not already provided in your application or other submitted documents (résumé, transcripts).

5. Waive your FERPA rights to see your recommendation letter. Remember that these documents are 100% confidential between the recommender and the university of your choice. This is the only way recommenders can freely talk about you. Most colleges will not review recommendation letters if you don't waive your FERPA rights.

6. Fill out the details of the recommender including the email address. The college will send a secure link to the recommender when you're done with this step. When the recommender clicks on that link, a form and a text box will open up for her to complete the recommendation letter. Anything that the recommender writes will directly be part of your student record, but because you waived your FERPA rights, you will not be able to see it. And this is by design.

What About Schools That Do Not Provide Links?

Not all schools allow you to send links to your teacher to complete the recommendation letter online. In such cases, you either upload your recommendation letter after receiving it from your teacher, which means you have a chance to see what your teacher wrote about you, or you ask your teacher to mail it to the target college or university, in which case you will protect the recommendation's confidentiality.

Consider Texas A&M, which does not provide a link for third party uploads. 

Recommendation letters can be uploaded by the student on the student's Application Information System (AIS) page. Go to the "Upload Documents" page under the "My Documents" tab. Because you are uploading your own recommendation letter, you can see its contents before upload. Texas A&M doesn't care too much about the FERPA rights of confidentiality.

If your teachers want their letter to remain confidential, they should mail it to the address below. Documents mailed to Texas A&M cannot be viewed by the applicant and will remain confidential. Be sure to have your recommender include your Texas A&M UIN ID and email address which uniquely identify you to Texas A&M.

FRESHMAN Admissions Processing
Texas A&M University
P.O. Box 30014
College Station, TX 77842-3014

The Most Important Step

Make sure you thank your teachers profusely. Their time and effort could well mean the difference between attending that first-choice college or not.

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