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Recommendation letters are a college's chance to get the inside scoop on an applicant from an outside source, and a seal of approval from a recommender can seal the deal in an admissions decision. Follow these tips to get recommendation letters that'll help you get in.

Who to ask

People who know you well. Always double check a school's requirements first; some have specific guidelines on who they'll accept letters from. Generally, though, non-family adults like teachers, employers, coaches, or community leaders who know you well write the best letters.

A variety. If possible, aim for a mix of recommenders who can each attest to a different aspect of you as an applicant. For example, a letter from a core subject teacher to describe your academic aptitude, from a coach attesting to your teamwork/leadership, and from a volunteer supervisor speaking to your commitment can have more impact than three very similar letters.

How to ask

At least 2 weeks in advance. Give a person as much advance notice as possible--especially teachers, who have a large volume of letters to write for students at this time of year.

With a plan. Ideally, meet in person at a designated time (not passing in the hallway between class), where you can discuss your plans and ask if the person can help by writing a positive letter.

What to provide

A summary of your goals and achievements. Create a folder or packet for each recommender, and provide copies of your application essays, a résumé, and any information that would contribute to a strong letter. Even people who know you well may have forgotten specific details of your achievements, so don't hesitate to provide a friendly reminder.

Logistical information and materials. Provide your recommenders stamps and pre-addressed envelopes (if needed), a list of how many copies of the letter you'll need, where each letter should be sent (or how to submit it online), and the application deadlines.

Finishing up

Waive your right to read letters. Students are legally allowed to read their recommendation letters, but colleges give more weight to letters not read by students.

Check in. Before the deadlines, check in with your recommenders to see if they have any questions or need any additional information, and confirm that they've completed your letters and sent them off.

When it's all over, don't forget to say thank you! A thank-you note is a polite gesture to express thanks.

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