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The letter of recommendation will never outweigh a student’s performance in the classroom, but it can be a tipping factor in the college admissions process.

There are three types:

1. The counselor recommendation is prepared by a student’s guidance counselor and is a basic component of every college application.

2. The teacher recommendation is typically requested from a core subject teacher, preferably from the student’s junior year.

3. The recommendation from a noncore subject teacher (art, music, etc.), coach, club adviser or employer.

The teacher recommendation carries the most weight. Deciding whom to ask, how to ask and when to ask can definitely have an impact.

What’s the purpose of the letter of recommendation? A strong one will offer the admissions officer a good sense of a student’s personality, beyond the letter grade received in their class. So it’s important to think about which teacher knows the student best. Simply because the student received an “A” in a class is not a sufficient reason. Some of the best letters are from teachers who witnessed a student struggling with course material, persevering and demonstrating commitment, drive and other qualities that a college wants to see.

If a college requests two letters of recommendation, then make sure that each letter reflects a different sphere of the student’s life. In other words, don’t ask both chemistry and physics teachers. A student needs to demonstrate strengths as well as varied interests.

The best thing a student can do besides asking early is to provide the recommender with information about extracurricular activities, any honors, scholarships or awards, employment, what the student has done over their summers and the student’s commitment to community service.

Unfortunately, students frequently wait until right before the applications are due to ask, and many teachers, especially the most popular ones, are already booked up. They apologize, but missing out on having your favorite teacher write your letter of recommendation will only make the college application process more stressful.