Recommendations about Recommendation Letters

Emily "Pete" Petersell

Dear Prospective Olin Applicant,

I am writing to strongly recommend…that you read the following blog post about recommendation letters!

Letters of recommendation are the piece of your application that you have the least amount of control over, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything to help your recommenders help you! Here are some DOs and DON’Ts about selecting and preparing recommenders to write on your behalf.

Harry Letters 1

DO ask your recommenders to write for you as early as possible. (DON’T wait until the last minute!)

Teachers and school counselors are very busy people, and most of them will be asked to write multiple letters of recommendation in one application cycle. The more notice you give your recommenders, the more time they will have to write a strong, clear, thoughtful letter about you.

If you wait too long to ask recommenders, they will rush through writing your letters—or they might simply say “no” to writing if they have too many other priorities on their plates.

Pro Tip: If you’re applying to Olin this coming January 1 and haven’t asked your teachers for recommendation letters, go ask them right now!

DO choose teachers who know you well and, if possible, have seen you work in a group setting.

The best recommendation letters will always come from the people who know you and your work best—not necessarily the people who have the fanciest titles or teach the most impressively difficult classes. You want the people who recommend you to be able to write descriptive letters about your academic abilities and best characteristics. Additionally, you want the recommenders you select to be able to write about the skills that are most important to Olin, such as good collaboration and teamwork, persistence, intrinsic motivation, and creativity, just to name a few.  

Our Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, Emily Roper-Doten, advises students to think about who they would select if they had to pick one of their teachers to have coffee with the Dean of Admission. Pick someone who could carry on a detailed conversation about you and who would advocate for you!

Dumbledore Toast

Also, don’t forget that Olin asks for at least one recommendation from a math or science teacher!

DO consider asking a teacher of a class you didn’t ace to recommend you.

Olin College is unique among engineering programs—we aren’t just looking for stellar students who know how to get an A. We are looking for students who stand out because they aren’t afraid to take risks, because they challenge themselves academically, because they can think outside the box, and, perhaps most critically, because they are not afraid to fail and they know how to learn from their mistakes. At Olin, failure and the process of learning from trial and error is central to what we do, so we want to know that the students we admit are not just good test-takers—they are good critical thinkers and active learners!

DON’T ask your friend’s dad or your mom’s friend to write you a recommendation letter.

Close friends and relatives certainly know you well, but their letters are often pretty biased, and rarely capture information about your academic capabilities. Stick to teachers and counselors for recommenders, and let your friends and family support you in other ways during the college application process.

DO talk to your recommenders about your college goals. (And talk to them about why you love Olin!)

Help your recommenders help you by providing them with a sense of the types of colleges you are applying to, what your educational goals are, and why you love your top choice college. This way, they can tailor your recommendation letters to address the abilities and characteristics you have that make you a great fit for your chosen educational environment.

DO think really hard before sending an extra recommendation letter. (And then probably DON’T send one.)

Yes, technically at Olin we will accept extra recommendation letters from additional teachers, employers, coaches, and other adults in your life. We are happy to read these extra letters…if they add another dimension to your application. This means that the content of the extra letter should address something (if not more than one thing) that is not mentioned or discussed elsewhere in your application, including your other letters, your essays, or your Common Application. Since we already require three letters of recommendation at Olin—one counselor and two teachers—it’s unlikely that an additional letter will add anything new. In the college admission process, more is not necessarily better.   

If you choose great recommenders for your required letters of recommendation, your application will be strong enough without any extra letters!

Harry Letters

Here, Harry demonstrates that extra letters are not always a good thing!


Posted in: All Admission Staff Blogs, Pete