Advice Column: College Admissions

By: Miyako Iwata

What role do letters of recommendation play in college applications? How do I get them?

In any college application, letters of recommendation play a crucial role in painting a more holistic picture of a student who, up to that point, was likely defined exclusively by hard numbers like their test scores, GPA, and the number of AP/IB classes on their high school transcript. “Letters of rec,” as they are more commonly called, give admissions officers a better sense of what the applicant has to contribute in the classroom setting, which can’t easily be quantified on an SAT score report. If executed correctly, asking for these letters on your behalf can add a real spark to your profile and give you an edge against other applicants who have similar qualifications as yours.

So who do you ask to write your letters? Most colleges suggest that you pick teachers who taught you in your junior or senior year in a core subject like English, social studies, science, or mathematics. (Some of the most competitive universities, like the Ivies, require this for all of their applicants.) Even better, you can boost your admissions chances by asking for a letter from an AP or IB teacher who saw your work in some of the toughest classes offered at the school. If it is at all possible, find a teacher who has taught you for multiple years; they can better attest not only to your strengths in the classroom but also your personal growth as a student.

It’s worth noting, however, that some kids may not feel as close with their core class teachers and instead feel that the adult who knows them best is someone they work with outside of the classroom, like a music instructor or an athletic coach. If that is the case for you, it is advised that you follow the guidelines outlined above, then request an additional letter of recommendation from said mentor to send off to colleges. If the focus of your application is a particular extracurricular activity in which you are highly accomplished, admissions committees are open to reading an additional letter from an adult who works with you in that area.

However many letters you end up submitting to colleges and whomever it is you ask to write them, the single most important aspect of this process is that you give your recommenders enough time to write a quality letter that can effectively speak to who you really are and what you’re really about. That’s why it’s imperative that you 1) “claim” your recommenders early on, and 2) give them a feasible deadline that allows them the time they need and ensures that those letters will be sent to your dream school on time.

How do you do this? First, you need to identify the key people in your life, starting with teachers, who could potentially write your letters. Then, early in your junior year, you must pick out 2-3 people that will be your recommenders. The next step is to approach your teacher/mentor in person and politely ask them if they could do this huge favor for you. (If you’re asking the right person, they will answer with an enthusiastic “yes!”) When the end of junior year comes around, check back in with your recommender about them writing your letter during the summer. Be ready to fill out forms that will give them important information on your extracurricular life and your unique personal traits. Last, but not least, give your recommender a deadline with a built-in buffer by which to have the letter completed. If you know you are applying to any schools under an Early Decision or Early Action plan, set that deadline for early September. Regular Decision applicants can opt for an October due date if needed.

Once these letters are written up, adding them onto your application is very easy. It’s up to your teachers themselves to upload them onto your Common Application account through Naviance. It’s suggested that you follow up with an email to confirm that they did this. If you got an extra letter from a coach or a mentor, have them send it to your guidance counselor for it to be successfully matched to your Common App profile.

The final and highly vital step in this process is that you thank your recommenders for their hard work. Remember: These people gave up their own time to help you be more successful! Fill out a thank-you card with a genuine and heartfelt message for your recommender, then top it off with a gift to show your appreciation. A small box of chocolate or a coffee card is an appropriate present on a high-schooler budget.

What are the graduation requirements for the state of Oregon?

As a high schooler in Oregon, you must meet a handful of basic requirements to be able to walk across the graduation stage and get a diploma come June of your senior year. Over their four years, a student needs to accrue a total of 24 credits in a variety of subject areas. Here’s the requirement breakdown: 4 English credits (LA), 3 Math credits (MA), 3 Science credits (SC), 3 Social Studies credits (SS), 3 Applied/Fine Arts credits (AF), and 6 elective or “Other Subjects” credits (OS).

If you want to apply to a UC School, remember that you must also have 1 full Fine Arts credit in a single subject area in order to apply. You can obtain this credit by taking Choir or Orchestra (zero period options), or in an art class like Drawing/Painting or Ceramics.


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