The New SAT: What Parents Don’t Know

Survey shows that 86% of parents of college-bound students are unaware of new SAT changes.

Recent survey indicates that most parents of high school students do not know about the new, and more challenging SAT test in 2016.

Want to hear something surprising? A recent Kaplan Test Prep survey found that 86 percent of parents of college-bound students have no idea that the SAT is changing in March 2016.

Surprised? Well that’s not even the wildest part. The majority of those 86 percent are also convinced that the new SAT will be significantly more difficult than the current one.

Given that several studies have revealed parental involvement to be one of the most important factors in determining success on the SAT, this question suddenly takes on important implications.

Since the introduction of the current SAT in 2005, average SAT scores have continuously dropped year after year. The average score for the class of 2015 was 1490 out of 2400—and that was the lowest composite score of the last ten years.

Furthermore, this average score falls short of the 1550 SAT College and Career benchmark, which says that students who score at or above 1550 have a 65 percent chance of earning a B- average in college.

Chief of Assessment for the College Board Cyndie Schmeiser strongly shares the widespread concern that many educational professionals—and parents in the know—are experiencing due to the consistent decline. “This is a call to action to do something different to propel more students to readiness,” Schmeiser said in a recent statement.

So why don’t more parents know about the new SAT?

With the new SAT right around the corner (first administration in March 2016), this “call to action” to prepare students for SAT success may require even more strategy and planning than previously anticipated. And parents might be the central focus of that effort.

According to Lee Weiss, Vice President of Kaplan Test Prep, the recent survey shows that “the more parents learn about the new SAT, the more they understand how challenging the content will be for their kids. There is no doubt that the new SAT is more rigorous than the current one.”

Weiss acknowledges the difficulty that parents face when juggling the many responsibilities that arise during the college admissions process. “It’s not surprising that most parents are still unaware of the upcoming SAT changes, as most are understandably focused on other aspects … like tuition, but the time to get all the facts about the test changes is now as Test Day is quickly approaching.”

What can parents do to help their kids be more prepared for the new SAT?

In addition to making sure they have the most up-to-date test prep materials and are aware of the general changes to the new SAT, parents should emphasize the importance of taking the PSAT this October. This preliminary exam—the precursor to the SAT, which can also qualify students for National Merit consideration and other scholarships—is also changing, and it’s modeled after the new SAT, so it can provide a great opportunity for students to get more familiar with the new changes and challenges.

Also, parents and students alike can stay up to date at Kaplan’s SAT Change Center, which highlights the specific details of the changes actually taking place.

Congratulations—and best of luck—to the Class of 2017, trailblazing the way into the future of college admissions with the new SAT!


Social Media Takes You to College

Social media is a great tool when applying to college.

Use social media to help you narrow down your target colleges.

Before you make a handful of cross-country tours to the prospective colleges on your checklist, take a look at those schools’ social media profiles to get a feel for campus events, organizations, student life, and ambiance—even the weather.


Start by searching for a college you’re interested in on Facebook, confirm that you’re on the school’s official Facebook page (look for the checkmark in a blue circle beside the school name), and then click “like.” You’ll see a dropdown menu that lets you both get notifications and add to your interest list.

  • Create a college list where you can group all of the schools’ feeds on a personalized interest page accessible from your Facebook home page. If you don’t want your friends to see your list, make it private. We recommend, however, opening it up so you can see which of your contacts are considering the same schools you are—this is what networking is all about, and it’s the perfect time to get comfortable with it.
  • Opting to get notifications will sign you up to receive posts—and lots of them—from the colleges you’ve selected on your timeline. You might want to be more selective when it comes to notifications to keep your timeline from getting buried in college news feeds. Try choosing just the general admissions pages of the schools you’re most interested in. Add and eliminate as you gather more information and narrow down options.
  • Interested in a particular club, sport, academic department, or publication? Most schools have separate pages for those more specialized interests, so you might want to like and add those specific pages.

Almost all Facebook college pages feature video content. Look under the “more” tab on the school’s page to find a variety of video clips that might include campus tours, recent student events, and an overview of what to expect on the first day of freshman year.


You headed to Facebook for the social feel of your target schools. Next, dig into YouTube to get more info on the academic side of things.

  • Go to a university’s website to find its dedicated YouTube channel. It should be right there on the home page. Spend some time here looking at the official uploads. There will be some class lectures here, but you are more likely to find video tours of freshman dorms and a kaleidoscope of campus life programming.
  • To find video of specific professors or activities that might have been uploaded directly by students or faculty, you will want to do a more thorough search of YouTube. Spell out the school’s name and include keywords (freshman, biology, finance, basketball) to find what you’re looking for.

While you’re on YouTube, subscribe to the KaplanSATACT channel for tips on the big exams as well as important video how-to guides to help you apply for scholarships.

Explore your college town’s websites

Because you’ll be spending four years in a location that’s most likely new to you, you will want to find out more about life off campus. Take a quick look at the convention and visitors’ bureau sites of the cities your target colleges call home.

  • Download a visitor’s guide from the city’s web site or convention and visitors’ bureau site. You’re bound to find info covering the highlights of seasonal events, public transportation, and points of interest.
  • Weather. These sites love to fill tourists in on what to pack for different times of the year. Take stock of this info for future wardrobe needs.
  • Food. Sometimes the city’s or region’s specialties will be featured in tourist info—but if not, do a Yelp search to make sure your favorite dishes are served locally.
  • Head back to Facebook. Take a look at any city’s about page and you’ll find out who among your friends has visited or lives there now. Pick a few places or things to follow (a sports team, museum or music festival) to keep track of what interests you.

Social media makes it easy to satisfy your curiosity about college life and to start narrowing down the schools that are right for you.

To count down the steps you need to take when applying to college, download your free KapMap for a month-by-month timeline of everything you need to do when applying to college. Then get started with our test prep options!


LinkedIn: The New Social Media Hotspot for High School

Linked in is great for high schoolers applying to college.

Want to get the jumpstart on your peers with LinkedIn?

LinkedIn isn’t just for your parents anymore. The professional networking site, which boasts more than 300 million members, has also started to focus on high school students with features like internship and student job boards, a college information databank, and alumni networking.

If you’re a high school student applying to college, here are a few tips for how to make LinkedIn work for you:

Build a LinkedIn profile

Unlike Facebook or other social media sites you’re used to, LinkedIn is all about your achievements.

  • Start developing your online resume early so you can keep track of all your high school highlights as you go. It may not be easy to remember everything in the hustle and bustle of senior year.
  • Upload a businesslike photo. Ask a friend to take a picture of you in a collared shirt with a “pleased to meet you” smile on your face.
  • Grab a custom URL. While you’re building your profile, click on the link just under your picture to choose a custom URL for your public profile. When you’re writing to scholarship organizations and college reps–or hunting for a job–use this URL in your email signature as a shortcut to your online resume.
  • For more on setting up your LinkedIn profile, take a look at this profile checklist.

Look for an internship

LinkedIn is an excellent source of leads for student internships and some summer jobs. Start by clicking on “jobs” in the top navigation bar.

  • Type “internship” in the search bar. Your initial search will turn up listings all over the world. Use the search filters on the left side of the page to refine your results.
  • Search by interest. Nonprofits, political campaigns, and corporations list paid and unpaid positions on LinkedIn.
  • Filter openings by zip code to get the maximum number of listings close to where you live.

Build a college decision board

Start searching LinkedIn college pages and add them to your decision board, which is LinkedIn’s version of an interest page, accessed from the profile dropdown menu on your home page.

  • Compare universities by post-graduation employment paths. LinkedIn looks at where its members went to college and where they work now to highlight future career paths you might find interesting.
  • Find alumni. As you develop contacts on LinkedIn (friends, teachers, counselors, family friends, employers), you will see who is attending or has attended a university on your decision board.

Keep networking

As you add courses, schools, jobs, and awards to your LinkedIn profile, the site will recommend connections to people you might know. See a family friend or mentor? Make a connection and start building out your network.

  • Introduce yourself. Use the search bar on your home profile page to see primary connections (your contacts) or secondary connections (contacts of these contacts) at a specific school, company, or nonprofit. Use or LinkedIn’s built-in tools—and your charm—to meet people who can give you advice or help you land an internship.
  • Watch for incoming connections. People will find you via LinkedIn and send invitations. Definitely connect with those you recognize, but don’t feel bad about declining invitations from those you don’t.

As you move from high school to college to grad school to career, LinkedIn will become ever more valuable as a database that helps you keep up with all the people you meet, study with, and work with along the way.

Find out more about LinkedIn, then download your free KapMap for a month-by-month timeline of everything you need to do when applying to college.


Stop Before You Share: 5 Tips for Your Online Presence

Manage your online presence for college admissions

Don’t let your social media habits stand in the way of you and your top colleges.

As you prep for college, admissions officers are watching. According to a 2014 Kaplan Test Prep survey, 35% of college admissions officers browse social media profiles to learn more about admissions candidates. That means it’s pretty likely that decision-makers at colleges and scholarship-granting organizations are taking a peek at your profiles.

Some students take control by shutting down Facebook, Twitter—everything—entirely. Some try hiding their online identities. You can, however, continue to be yourself on social media with just a few extra filters.

Here are the top five things you should ask yourself  before you post:

  • Does this post make me look like college material? When a college admissions officer or the Kiwanis Club’s scholarship committee reads your status update, is it a positive reflection on you? Make sure you are appropriately attired in all your pics (and no selfies!) and that you come across as level-headed in your posts. Maintain A+ spelling and grammar, and if you express an opinion, make sure it’s one that can be backed up with an intelligent argument.
  • Would I say this on television? You’re essentially broadcasting your personality on your social media accounts, so watch the language, seal up the mug shots, and mind your manners. Period. About the worst thing you can do on social networks on your path to college is trash talk a school you’ve attended, a school you want to go to, your teachers, or your boss. Decision-makers consider these comments a red flag.
  • Is this post an invitation for over-commenters? Rethink a post that is going to trigger crazy comments you’ll have to edit out of your timeline. Better to spend your spare time developing your LinkedIn profile.
  • Is this really funny? Is it offensive? Does it need an explanation? What’s funny to one person can be taken the wrong way by someone else. If you think you’re going to have to explain or defend your post, it’s probably best to pass. Furthermore, a vague or potentially offensive post runs the risk of triggering that onslaught of comments you just tried to avoid—comments that are all but guaranteed to further obscure your meaning or end up putting words in your mouth.
  • Does everyone need to read this? If the answer is no, don’t post. Have good news to share? Go ahead. What might seem like bragging to some can be inspiration to others, but choose your words carefully when posting about your accomplishments. Don’t forget: one way to share positive news on social media platforms is by expressing your support of an important organization, social movement, or political issue. Keep friends looped in on this kind of info so they can also get involved.

To count down the steps you need to take when applying to college, download your free KapMap for a month-by-month timeline of everything you need to do when applying to college. Then get started with our test prep options!


3 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your College Visits

Prep for your college admissions with college visits and pick out your top-choice schools.

Ready to travel for your college visits?

You’re off to college! Well, technically you’re off to your college visits—but that’s a good start. There may still be a lot to do before your parents drop you off on your first day, help you unpack the car, and embarrass you in front of future dorm- and classmates, but this is the fun part: a chance to feel out the academic structure, student body energy, and general ambiance of the top-choice schools on your list.

After all, this will be the next four years of your life. Where you decide to spend them can be just as important as what you choose to study or who you connect with. So we’ve put together some ideas for how to help you get the most out of this important part of the college admissions process.

Schools want you to attend

Yes, there are admissions requirements that you must meet to attend particular schools. At the same time, colleges and universities are businesses, and they know that the most important factor in their success is their student body—and that means you.

So when you sit down with an admissions officer, don’t just passively let them interview you. Interview them at the same time. This is your opportunity to get your questions answered and determine if this is the place you want to be. Not sure what questions you should be thinking about? Here are some ideas to get you thinking on your college visits.

So, how have you approached your recent college visits?  Were you anxious, excited, or just ready to get out of the house?  Share a story, thought, or question in the comments below!

Take every college visit seriously

The first year at college may be your first year away from home. It’s time to express yourself and start developing the person you want to be. Don’t let what others are doing or have done make the college decision for you—even if your parents are pushing you to attend their alma mater or your guidance counselor says you should go for the biggest financial aid package.

Instead, seriously consider every school on your college visit list according to your terms. What’s important to you?  At the same time, keep an open mind toward those who have been through this process before, try to think as long-term as possible, and don’t ignore the financial factor. After all, you will eventually have to pay back student debt.

Relax, and have fun!

Stress can eat away at the joy of the college admission process. Yes—joy! Sure, there are admissions requirements, and true, not everyone gets in, but the stress you are feeling will end up stifling your journey of selecting the right school.

Relax on your college visits. Take it all in, and don’t be afraid to let fun be a factor in your college decision. Experiencing what it’s like to be a college student is exciting! Again, this will be your home for four years. Don’t you want to know what the best late night pizza spot is, or which cafe serves the best coffee? You’ll probably be drinking a lot of it when you’re up late studying for finals. You’ll want to know what it’s like to attend those college football games or what it feels like to walk around campus in February. So it is okay to have fun and relax while on college visits. You will be a student on campus soon enough, and you’ll want to know what it feels like to actually be a student outside the classroom.

To count down the steps you need to take when applying to college, download your free KapMap for a month-by-month timeline of everything you need to do when applying to college. Then get started with our test prep options!


5 Tips for Fighting Senioritis

Colleges admissions officers will be looking for signs that you're fighting senioritis.

Don’t let this happen to you—fight senioritis!

Seniors, this is it—your final year of high school! It’s all winding down—except now, you’re not only focusing on managing your course load, but college admissions as well.

There’s a lot to juggle, from college applications and essay-writing to collecting letters of recommendation and possibly studying for the SAT or ACT one last time. All of this on top of regular school work, finals, AP or IB exams, extracurricular activities, and maintaining some semblance of a social life.

With all the simultaneous excitement and pressures facing you, it’s easy to understand how senioritis—that infectious little bug that runs rampant around January or February of senior year—can be so pernicious … and so contagious.

Don’t worry; we’re here to offer the top five tips for fighting off senioritis and staying on track for college admissions:

  1. Remember: Second semester grades still matter for college admissions! It is very tempting to lose steam after you hit submit on that last college application. That’s why it’s so important to keep your eye on the goal, especially when you’ve come so far and you’re so close! Remember those colleges you’ve applied to and your dreams of receiving that acceptance letter? Well, those very colleges may ask to see second semester grades, and you do not want to be in the position of having to show them a nose-dive.
  2. Nix that bad habit before it becomes your routine. One of the top symptoms of senioritis is lethargy. You have worked so hard—maybe the hardest you have in your high school career—balancing school, applications, and standardized tests. It’s natural to tell yourself, “I deserve a break!” Of course, you do, but don’t let this become a habit. Take some time to relax after you’ve submitted applications and taken your last SAT or ACT, but don’t take too long of a break. Stay involved in school and activities, and keep those grades up! If you don’t, it will be easy to lose focus.
  3. Remember, this is your last year of high school. One year from now you will be in college. Let that sink in for a moment. You do not want to look back at senior year and wish you had finished more things that you started. At the same time, this may be your last year at home with your family and friends, so you are certainly allowed to let yourself enjoy it. Having fun and appreciating the people in your life does not equate to senioritis.
  4. Challenge yourself. Continue to take courses that motivate and inspire you. This will keep you on top of your game. Also, colleges may reach out and ask for your second semester schedule on applications. You want to show them that you are still challenging yourself. If you take an easier course load, it can be much more tempting to slack off.
  5. Have fun! This isn’t just a good idea; it’s a necessity. Everyone needs some time to recharge. Just find a balance between working hard and having fun. This will make senior year that much sweeter. Remember, the college admissions process does not last forever!

To count down the steps you need to take when applying to college, download your free KapMap for a month-by-month timeline of everything you need to do when applying to college. Then get started with our test prep options!



Why Volunteering Matters in College Admissions

Volunteering is great for your resume, LinkedIn profile, college application, and social life!

To spruce up your college application, resume, and LinkedIn profile, try volunteering!

When you think about college admissions, you probably think about your SAT or ACT scores, grades, GPA, essays, and letters of recommendation. While you definitely need to focus on all of those things, it’s also important to start building your resume. One way to do that is by volunteering.

Volunteering may not increase your SAT or ACT scores or boost your GPA, but it can provide you with the edge you need in the college admissions process and be the answer to that overwhelming question: “How can my qualifications stand out in a sea of applications?”

Here are four ways volunteering can help you on your journey to college:

  1. Experience

    Volunteering can provide you with some great experiences outside the classroom while also appealing to college admissions officers—especially if they read about your volunteer work in your application essay. Admissions officers can find your test scores, grades, and GPA on your transcript. They also want to see who you are outside of the classroom. Volunteering allows you to showcase another side of yourself. It provides an opportunity for you to speak passionately about a cause or organization that you believe in and have dedicated some real time toward. It also looks good on your LinkedIn profile or resume to future employers.

  2. Leadership

    College admissions officers love to see students who are passionate leaders, and volunteering is a great way to gain some leadership experience. Instead of merely completing the mandatory service hours that may be required by your high school, take the time to research a cause that inspires you. The more inspired you are, the more likely you are to be involved and take on a leadership position. This will show admissions officers that you can meaningfully contribute to the campus community and be an active member of the student body.

  3. Scholarships

    That’s right—volunteering can lead to scholarship opportunities through various organizations. Do Something, for example, offers two types of scholarships, one of which awards $10K to four lucky students. Join one of their volunteer campaigns and show how involved you are—it can pay off, big time!

  4. Networking

    While volunteering, you will encounter and work with many different types of people who can help you develop professional skills in a field you may be interested in. Some of these people may even become your mentors and wind up in the perfect position to write your letters of recommendation for your college applications.

What are the many various ways you can get involved and volunteer? Find inspiration in these examples, and remember that giving starts in your own community.

  • Last year, teens participating in Do Something recycled 1,333,135 aluminum cans that would have ended up in the landfill.
  • Over the last 25 years, New York residents have given over 1.6 million coats to be distributed among their fellow residents.
  • In one Kentucky city, volunteers collected 143,600 lbs. of fresh fruit and vegetables that would otherwise have gone to waste by gathering leftover produce from farms after harvest and day-old donations from supermarkets.
  • You can be a catalyst for giving! A study from University of California, San Diego, found that altruistic acts inspire others—up to two degrees of separation away. Your friends and your friends’ friends will all be inspired by your generous behavior and good deeds.
  • In 2012, Americans volunteered over 7.9 billion hours of service.
  • College alumni gave over $9 billion in donations back to their schools in 2013.
  • Giving back can make you happier! Researchers at Harvard and UC Riverside found that spending time or money on others releases mood-enhancing endorphins in the brain, making you happier than if you’d spent it on yourself.
  • Students who give back to their community through volunteer service hours are 19% more likely to graduate from college on time.
  • Consider this when giving to your local food drive. The most needed items in food banks are always peanut butter, tuna, and beans.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and volunteer! Not only will you be doing something good for others, but you’ll be helping yourself on the path to college and investing in your career.

To count down the steps you need to take when applying to college, download your free KapMap for a month-by-month timeline of everything you need to do when applying to college. Then get started with our test prep options!


Top Tips for a Successful College Interview

The college interview is all part of the college application process.

Win over admissions officers in your college interview!

The college interview is often the forgotten piece of the college application process, but most colleges do require it. It’s in your best interest, therefore, to treat the process like any other and secure interviews at your prospective schools as early as possible.

Even though it may not be talked up as the most important factor in getting accepted, the interview can help college admissions officers get to know you better so you’re not just another name in a pile of applications.

Some of you may be better at selling yourselves in person than on paper. Making a personal connection can really give you that extra edge!

Interviews don’t have to be scary! Actually they can be engaging and enlightening when you approach them the right way. Keep in mind: they are also for your benefit, providing a chance for you get to know your prospective schools on a more personal level and help you decide where you want to go.

Here are the top tips to having a successful college interview!

Do your research before each college interview

Review each school’s application process, website, and brochures beforehand. Learn as much as you can about the school and the program you’re interested in so you can walk into the interview knowledgeable and ready to learn more. Make sure to write down anything you find interesting or want to bring up during your college interview.

Be prepared for common questions

College admissions officers might try and throw you a curve ball to see how you’ll react in the interview. Be prepared! Here are some questions they might ask. It helps to rehearse your answers to these questions before your interview. Try to practice with either family or friends who can give you advice on some popular questions such as:

    • Why do you want to go to this college?
    • What do you want to major in and why?
    • How would your friends characterize you?
    • What do you do in your spare time?
    • Who is the most influential person in your life and why?

Have your own questions ready

Some students say that the hardest question you’ll get from an admissions officer is “Do you have any questions for me?” Sounds easy enough, right? Maybe, but it catches a lot of students off guard.

Questions about activities, off-campus programs, housing—or whatever is important to you—are encouraged, as they demonstrate your interest in the school. Here are some questions you can ask!

Bring along a notepad

Write down your interview questions on a notepad and bring it with you. Also, use the notepad to take notes during the interview. Be specific—you’ll likely be visiting several schools, and they can all start to blend together if you don’t take note of details.

The transcript and resume or a quick link to your LinkedIn profile will come in handy if you are given an information sheet to fill out prior to your meeting.

Dress to impress and arrive early

You want the make a good impression with your admissions officer. No, this doesn’t mean showing up decked out in school colors or dressed as the mascot. When in doubt, business casual is the way to go.

Make sure to arrive at least 15 minutes early. Arriving early will give you some time to relax and prepare yourself mentally.

Send a thank you note

After your college interview, send a thank you note to your interviewer. Express your continued interest in the school, cite things you spoke about in the interview, and be sincere. The more positive interest you show in them, the more interest they may show in you.

A final tip for interviews in general

Whether you’re interviewing for college or a job, remember that the person on the other side of the table is a human being. They may also be nervous too and eager to impress you.

By coming prepared and helping facilitate a pleasant conversation, you will put them at ease, and they will see you more favorably. You may even find yourself enjoying the process!

To count down the steps you need to take when applying to college, download your free KapMap for a month-by-month timeline of everything you need to do when applying to college. Then get started with our test prep options!


How to Write a College Application Essay

What do you need to know before you get down to writing those college application essays?

Does your college application essay have that personal touch?

While Your ACT and SAT test scores—along with your GPA—give college admissions officers an opportunity to assess your academic potential, it’s your college application essay that allows you to stand out among the other applicant, showcase your personality, and answer the question they really want to know: what makes you you?

Most universities require at least one essay as part of the college application, but many require two or more of various lengths. These top tips on how to write them will not only get you off to a good start; they will also help you avoid common college essay mistakes.

Dos and don’ts of college application essay writing

  1. DON’T expect your first draft to be perfect. Getting started is the biggest hurdle to overcome. Your first draft isn’t your final draft! Get past the first step; then worry about momentum.
  1. DO revise—early and often. Your college application essay should go through multiple stages of revision. We’re not talking about a quick proofread; you should ask parents, teachers, and even your peers to read through your essay drafts and give you substantial critical advice.
  1. DON’T rehash your resume or your LinkedIn profile. The college admissions committee has already seen a list of your extracurricular activities and volunteer work, as well as the honors and awards you’ve received: you listed those accomplishments elsewhere in your college application. Portray yourself as a mature, thoughtful individual. What is your personal story that captures this quality?
  1. DO use the first person. Avoid generic third person pronouns like “one” or “students.” This essay is about you!
  1. DON’T rely on famous quotes to do the heavy lifting. If you have a quotation that particularly speaks to you, tell the readers why those words are so meaningful—don’t just regurgitate. In the same vein, avoid clichés, maxims, and other common phrases. If you’ve heard it before, chances are the college admissions officers have heard it hundreds of times more than that.
  1. DO say what you mean, and mean what you say. Be honest, but not boastful or self-deprecating. Be specific, clear, and concise. Using a thesaurus can help you find the exact word you want to convey a feeling or emotion, but …
  1. DON’T make your essay read like the dictionary. Vocabulary words definitely belong in your SAT essay, but you’ll want to sound like yourself and convey your own voice in your college application essay. If you wouldn’t ordinarily describe sharing meals with your family as a “salubrious assemblage of kin” your college essay is NOT the place to start.
  1. DO start early! Writing your college essay is not a task that you should put off until the last minute. Start today!

To count down the steps you need to take when applying to college, download your free KapMap for a month-by-month timeline of everything you need to do when applying to college. Then get started with our test prep options!


How to Ask for a College Recommendation Letter

Learn how to get great letters of recommendation for college admissions.

What’s the best way to get a great college recommendation letter out of your teachers?

As you probably already know if you’re in the middle of the college application process, college admissions committees often ask for two or three letters of recommendation from teachers, instructors, guidance counselors, or employers. Follow these simple guidelines to secure the strongest recommendations possible from the people who are the most familiar with you and your academic work.

Who to ask for a college recommendation letter

Asking for college recommendation letters can seem daunting for two reasons. One, you might be afraid of being shot down, and two, you have no idea what these teachers will write.

The truth is, most teachers want to help you out, and there are several things you can do to help them help you come across as strong as possible in their portrayal of you.

Guidance counselors and high school teachers typically write letters of recommendation, although additional letters can come from coaches and employers. In any case, these letters should be from people who know you well, both in and out of the classroom. Though she might hold a special place in your heart, that eliminates Mrs. Stevenson from third grade, even if you did casually bump into her at the supermarket last week. Collectively, these letters will inform the college admissions committee of your abilities, character, passions, and personality.

When deciding whom to ask for a college recommendation letter, consider the following questions:

  • Is this a teacher with whom I’ve formed a connection?
  • Has this teacher witnessed my growth or development in any way?
  • When was the last time I spoke with this teacher?
  • What subjects did I take with this teacher?

Your 12th grade teachers have likely not yet gotten to know you, unless you took a class with them previously, and you have presumably matured since you were a wide-eyed freshman. Therefore, most letters of recommendation tend to be written by teachers from students sophomore and junior years.

The strongest college recommendation letters don’t always come from the teachers who assigned you the highest grades, but from instructors who watched your academic skills develop.

A letter that says, “Devon struggled early in my history class, but she redoubled her efforts after the first exam, stayed after for help and steadily improved throughout the semester as a result of her hard work and determination” is a lot more compelling that a letter that says “Abigail earned an A+ in my AP Calculus class and she seemed nice based on my limited interactions with her.”

If you are only allowed one teacher recommendation, it’s best to ask someone who taught you a core academic subject. Check the requirements of your colleges; some require letters of recommendation from two specific instructors—one from a math/science course and another from a humanities course. So stay on top of that homework.

When to ask for a college recommendation letter

Early. Give your teacher or guidance counselor time to write you a glowing review. At the very least, you should make an in-person request a month before the deadline, but you can ask as early as the end of junior year, since it’s likely that those are the teachers who will be writing your letters anyway.

Arrange a time to speak with your letter writers after class or after school. This ensures that you will have their full attention, and it also makes a good impression by demonstrating that you respect their time.

How to guarantee a great college recommendation letter

While the common application will automatically email your recommenders once you add them to your online application, this should not be seen as a substitute for an in-person request, nor should you add a recommender to your common application before asking them in person and giving them all of the materials they may need to fill out their picture of you.

Request, but don’t expect. You will benefit by having your letters of recommendation written by teachers who sincerely want to help you by writing a strong letter on your behalf. If your request is denied, don’t be offended. Be grateful that this individual understands the impact these letters have on your future and respects you enough to be honest about their limitations up front.

When you approach the teachers from whom you’re requesting college recommendation letters, show up prepared with the complete list of colleges to which you’re applying, as well as all of their application deadlines. A resume, short summary of your high school accomplishments, and statement regarding your collegiate plans should also be provided to your letter writers.

After the letters are completed, it’s your turn to write! Show your gratitude by writing your recommenders formal thank you notes, and don’t forget to keep them updated as application decisions start rolling in! They’ll be thrilled to know they helped you on the way to achieving your dreams.

To count down the steps you need to take when applying to college, download your free KapMap for a month-by-month timeline of everything you need to do when applying to college. Then get started with our test prep options!


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