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May 17, 2021

Cora K. Hasegawa ’19

Oberlin, like many schools, requires two teacher recommendation letters. But what does that really mean? And how can a rec letter strengthen your application when you have no control over it? In this blog I’ll share some insight into how we read recommendations and what they add to your application.

The Requirements

At Oberlin we require all applicants to submit two letters of recommendation written by core academic teachers, preferably from either senior or junior year. The reason we prefer your core teachers is because we want to make sure you are academically prepared for college. While we love to hear from your music or acting teachers, they don’t tell us what you’re like in a traditional classroom. Typically we consider English, Math, Science, Social Studies, Foreign Language and any AP or IB classes to be core classes. 

The Writers 

When it comes to who will write your letters the best advice is the most obvious: ask for recommendations from teachers who know you. Seek out teachers who have engaged with you on a personal and academic level, someone who can write more than a list of your past classes and extracurriculars. This can be hard, and not everyone has this kind of connection with a teacher, but that’s why you should work on developing a relationship as soon as you can. It’s also important to remember to ask a teacher to write a letter for you sooner rather than later. Many students at your school may ask the same teachers for recommendations, so be sure to give them plenty of time before the due date. You want your teachers to give your letter the same care and attention you gave your application. In addition to giving your teachers enough time, it can also help if you provide them with your resume and a copy of your essay (or at least a working draft). These materials help remind them of what you do outside of class and gives them insight into what you are highlighting in your application. 

It’s also important that you foster a relationship with your school counselor, because they will also be writing a letter for you. In most high schools, you aren’t able to choose your counselor and you rarely have a class with them, so it may seem difficult to create a close relationship. My advice is to meet with them as soon and as often as you can. Counselors are a resource for you to rely on and learn from, so go to them throughout the college search process with questions and updates about your life. In a counselor letter, we aren’t looking for the same information that your teachers might share. Instead, we’re hoping that they might give us more information on what you are looking for in a college which can help us know if you’d be the right fit for our school.

The Extras

At Oberlin, if you want to include one additional recommendation, you can, especially if you feel it can offer insight that other letters don’t. If you’re a hard worker, you can ask your supervisor to write a letter. If you’re a leader on the court, your coach can send us a recommendation. This extra letter is a great way for us to get to know you in a different environment and see what skills you may bring to our school community. It is important to note that additional letters should come from adults whom you have a mentor relationship with but not someone you are related to. 

Choosing who will write your recommendation letters is a personal process and every student needs to evaluate what it is you want and need to include in your application. However, I hope that knowing a bit more about how we read these letters helps make that decision a little easier for you!

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