Most colleges consider letters of recommendation an essential part of the university admissions process, with each having its own requirement regarding how many students should submit.
For this reason, double-checking the prerequisites of every school on your list is recommended to ensure you don’t miss out on anything. Keep reading as we delve into how many letters of recommendation for college are typically required.
Why Do Colleges Ask for a Recommendation Letter?
Firstly, let’s take a look at why universities ask for letters of recommendation for college applications:
Insight Into Your Interests
Schools are interested in your life beyond just the classroom, and recommendation letters are a great way to highlight your interests, such as music, sports, working with children, volunteering, etc. They give your future university a glimpse into your passions, providing insight into the kind of individual you are and showcasing what you have to offer.
Since a letter of recommendation doesn’t necessarily have to be written by your high school teachers, don’t hesitate to ask other close professionals in your life for one. This could be a coach, a volunteer coordinator, other members of your community, and much more.
Insight Into Your Strengths
We recommend submitting one recommendation letter written by a teacher that details your performance in your intended major. Your teacher can talk about your classroom engagement, the skills you’ve exhibited for the subject, and other aspects of your future career, life, or education.
Since most schools ask for two letters of recommendation, it’s in your best interest to pick the best teacher you’re closest to and whose teaching methods align with your goals. For example, if you plan on majoring in medicine, choose a professional in that field.
Insight Into Your Relationships
Most students don’t realize that recommendation letters reflect their connections and relationships with their community, school, and teachers. These letters are written by experts close to you, highlighting your actions, respect for others, and professionalism. Colleges are interested in how well you treat and communicate with your peers and faculty.
Consequently, if a teacher considers you honest, accountable, or a pleasure to have in class, opt for them to write your letter. Establishing strong, nurturing relationships with those around you is crucial for both personal and professional growth.
How Many Letters of Recommendation is Enough?
The letters of recommendation requirement can range anywhere from zero to four letters, depending on where you’re applying. Still, many colleges want to see at least one evaluation from your school’s counselor.
The common number of sought-after teacher recommendations is one or two, especially if the school is academically competitive. And while very few colleges demand three recommendation letters, this is mostly a requirement if you’re applying to military school.
You can find specific information on this matter by checking out the websites of your universities of interest. In the case that you’re applying through the Common Application, each school’s eligibility criteria and expectations should be available on your app.
The number of recommendation letters you’ll have to submit varies from school to school. For example, colleges like the University of California schools and the University of Texas don’t ask for any recommendations. In contrast, Amherst College and Stanford University require one counselor and two teacher recommendations.
Colleges that Require and Don’t Require LOR
In this section, we’ll provide a list of colleges that require LORs and those that don’t. Let’s start with the schools that don’t ask for a letter of recommendation:
- University of Washington
- University of California schools
- University of Texas
- University of Minnesota
- Penn State University (unless a program has specified so)
On the other hand, some colleges require one teacher and one counselor recommendation:
- Georgia Tech
- University of Massachusetts
- University of Delaware (one required but one more preferred)
- University of Maryland
- Wake Forest University
- University of Virginia
Here’s a list of universities with two teacher and one counselor recommendation requirements:
- Boston College
- Brown University
- Colgate University
- Connecticut College
- Dartmouth College
- Duke University
- Harvard University
- John Hopkins University
- Mount Holyoke College
- Trinity College
- Yale University
- Smith College
What Do Colleges Look for in Letters of Recommendation?
Now, we’ll explain what colleges look for in recommendation letters and provide some successful examples of letters of recommendation for college:
Strengths and Qualities
Admissions officers are interested in your strengths and personal qualities, including passion, integrity, thoughtfulness, caring for others, and humor. They also especially value the strength of your character and leadership skills.
This is because they want students who’ll fully take advantage of the opportunities provided at college. For example, universities look for students who will lead volunteer trips, edit the college newspaper, do research in the labs, and much more.
Since admissions teams are responsible for building a student body that resembles a community, they typically admit those individuals who can make an impact by thriving in their respective interests and standing up for important causes.
Example of MIT accepted student’s recommendation letter: “As business manager for the paper and co-editor of the yearbook the past two years, Mary has done an outstanding job. She personally brought the town’s business community from the view that the school newspaper was a charitable organization to the realization that the paper is a direct pipeline through which advertisers can reach students. She also took the initiative to set up the advertising rate schedule for the paper that produced enough revenue to expand coverage from a four-page paper, so that it is an eight-page and often twelve-page paper. Her work as a photographer for both publications has been equally outstanding.”
This letter shows that the student is significantly committed to a particular type of community service, with these specific details in the recommendation letter showcasing her overall character and leadership capabilities.
Any Challenges You’ve Faced and Overcome
Perhaps you experienced some difficulties or problems in your personal life during high school, leading to a decline in your academic performance. In that case, your letters of recommendation can help admission officers understand why your grades or extracurriculars are lacking.
Example of letter of recommendation for a student who was facing family issues at home: “Jane is an outstanding young woman whose academic record may not fully reflect her ability. Her parents were divorced during her junior year, and, for several years before that, her home situation had been in turmoil with a great deal of fighting between her parents. Her father has an alcohol problem, and Jane certainly endured a great deal of emotional distress. The fact that she has been able to do as well as she has done given the circumstances says a lot about her. Now that the home situation has stabilized, her performance has improved. I believe her senior year grades are a much better reflection of her ability.”
The recommendation letter helped Jane get into college despite her unsatisfactory grades. When college admissions teams are made aware of the problems a student encounters, it shapes their perspective on that individual’s environment and performance. They can understand the context behind what has been achieved, what hasn’t, and why. Not only does honesty and advocation in these letters help mitigate an applicant’s deficits, but it also increases the chances of securing scholarships.
Your letters of recommendation should also incorporate instances of your character. For example, let’s consider a LOR example of a student in a military family who moved a lot, provided by the college admissions counseling company IvyWise:
“Ashley’s teachers say she is an organized student who is not afraid to ask questions when she is uncertain about a skill or concept. She also works well in group settings, always making sure all members are actively involved in the work, instead of simply taking over, as many of her similarly high achieving peers are wont to do. She is also extremely goal-oriented; once she sets her mind to completing a task or project, she pursues it in earnest until it is done, regardless of any obstacles that pop up along the way. Far from the ruthless competitor, however, her peers characterize her as a compassionate friend, someone that everyone feels comfortable opening up to.”
While moving to various places, the student showed an upward trajectory in courses and grades, adapting seamlessly to new situations and taking up new challenges no matter how daunting and overwhelming they were. This letter section sheds light on her strong character and helps college admissions understand her as a student and community member.
A Strong Conclusion and Introduction
As with most writing pieces, a letter of recommendation should be captivating enough to grab the reader’s attention instantly. While students don’t actually have control over how their letter is written, offering anecdotes and fostering meaningful relationships can lead to your recommender crafting a more engaging letter.
Let’s be honest; admissions officers get thousands of applicants, meaning they’re much more likely to glance at the letter’s concluding and opening sentences before determining whether it’s worth reading. A clever anecdote can take you a long way compared to a list of carefully chosen adjectives.
Who Should You Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?
As for the question of who to ask for letters of recommendation for college, you should opt for someone who meets the following criteria:
- Can discuss your personal characteristics
- Has the skills to write a captivating letter
- Can elaborate on your academic skills
- Is able to discuss your leadership skills, capacity to work with others, and your performance in your intended career field
- Holds some recognition and whose judgment is highly respected in that field
Additionally, if you’re unsure when to ask for letters of recommendation for college, we recommend requesting one at least 2-3 months before your application deadline. This gives your teachers or counselors ample time to write a good letter.
Wrapping Things Up: How Many Letters of Recommendation for College?
Great letters of recommendation for college aren’t written overnight, and require meaningfully established relationships with your chosen individual beforehand. Every college has its own requirement for how many LORs to submit, so make sure you list the number for your chosen universities.