I've been answering a lot of questions lately on our Oberlin Prospective Student Facebook group regarding letters of recommendation. I invite you to check out the forum thread and read the discussion, but I also decided this would be a great thing to blog about and hopefully clear up some things.
First let me start with the basics for those of you completely new to all this. Oberlin is a Common Application school, and we only take the Common App. Therefore, the recommendation guidelines are the same as those for the Common App: we require two recs from teachers who have taught you in an academic subject (i.e. Math, English, Social Science, Science, or Foreign Language), and we ask students to include with those the Common App's teacher rec form. This is just a two-page form that includes some evaluative info as well as class information for the student. There is a small space on the second page of that form asking for a written recommendation. Feel free to attach a separate letter to the form in place of this; teachers don't have to squeeze their rec into the small space on the form.
Let me expound upon requiring that the recs be from academic subjects. We know that many of you may have had more meaningful experiences with an art, music, business teacher/mentor etc., but we still require at least two recs from someone who has taught you in English, Math, Social Science, Science, or Foreign Language. If you'd like, you may send in supplemental recs from an art teacher or the like, but you still need the basic two. Every year we have a surprising number of applicants who don't follow this rule, and it only slows down the review process.
As stated above, we do accept supplemental recs. If a student feels that there is someone who knows them very well and can give supportive and unique information about them to the admissions committee, then they can add the rec to the application and it will be reviewed as supplemental material. This is not necessary, and you are not set back if you only have the required two recs. Every year we admit plenty of applicants who had no supplemental material with their files. Supplemental material will never be the deciding factor; it will only serve to help us get a better picture of you as a person and student. The standard application materials are quite often more than enough for us to get such a picture of the applicant.
I think that covers what I wanted to say. Just a quick tip in parting: if you haven't already, figure out who you want to write your recs, and give them plenty of time (usually at LEAST two weeks) to write them. Hope this helps!
Responses to this Entry
Perhaps this is not admissions-department-sanctioned, but what I found helpful in high school and what I am finding helpful as I prepare to apply to grad school is to "prime" your letter writers a bit. Meet with them one-on-one and go over what strengths you're hoping to convey to schools and how you've demonstrated those strengths in their classes. It makes writing the letter a lot easier for them and usually results in something that strengthens your application. Some of my recommendation letter writers in high school knew me very well but some didn't, and so I had to take one of my favorite quotes, from George W. Bush himself, to heart: "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda."
Posted by: Will on November 17, 2009 6:19 PM
What about if you are using the select application? I mean I never looked at the Common App because all I had to do was the Select, so what should I do about Letters of recomendation?
Posted by: Ian McLaughlin on November 18, 2009 11:54 AM
Should the recommendations come from two teachers of different subjects? I've asked both my psychology teacher and history teacher for letters, so unless psychology qualifies as a science, I'd have to throw out one of them (which I'd feel terribly guilty for..).
Posted by: Anita Lee on November 23, 2009 3:06 AM
Will, great comment and advice (an interesting choice of quote). I agree with your comment.
Ian, I am not aware of the Select Application, but Oberlin ONLY accepts the Common Application. If you are using another application then you are not using the correct one. Feel free to call our office at 800-622-6243 if you have questions or feel that I am not understanding you correctly.
Anita, we do not require recs from multiple subjects, so you are fine having both of yours be from the Social Sciences. If a student does have the choice, however, I would recommend diversifying and having recs from more than one subject if possible. So, if your math teacher can give you just as good a rec as your history teacher, and your other rec is from psychology, I would suggest going with your math teacher. But if you know your psych teacher will give you the better rec, it's fine to use them.
Posted by: Jesse Hernandez on November 23, 2009 9:26 AM
Has the application process changed in any significant way since 2009. I have a young lad who is expressing interest in your program.
Posted by: Jasper on July 13, 2013 3:44 PM
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