How important are letters of recommendation?

You've filled out your college application and written your essay. What else sets your college application apart from all the others that your prospective university will receive? A glowing letter of recommendation – or several. But how important are these letters?

Letters of recommendation are more than just the icing on the cake – often, they're a vital part of the college admissions process. Some schools will require not just one, but several examples of this kind of document. A solid letter of recommendation can lend your college application the extra weight that could make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

Universities are receiving more college applications than ever before. With so many students applying to degree programs, letters from school officials explaining why you are a great candidate can be vital to being accepted into a reputable school.

Before sending off your college application, double check how many letters of recommendation your prospective schools require. Make sure you approach your teachers and principal with plenty of time – remember, yours won't be the only one they have to write, and you don't want to miss out on a potentially great letter because you left it until the last minute.

Whatever you do, don't assume that your teachers will automatically write a letter of recommendation for you. Be courteous, and ask them beforehand. You should also check that they're not only comfortable writing you a letter of recommendation, but that they can do so before the deadlines. If they can't, be sure to ask someone else.

Don't assume that each teacher will be aware of your academic accomplishments, or GPA. Make it easier for them to write the letter by providing them with your transcript and any additional information that may be worth mentioning, such as extracurricular activities, that could look good on your college application.

In the event that letters have to be submitted in hard copy, make your teachers' lives easier by providing them with stamped envelopes so they can simply print out your letter and mail it. Again, don't assume that they will do this for you. Remember – they're doing you a favor by writing you a letter of recommendation in the first place.

One really important thing to consider is which teachers to ask to write the letter. Although it can be tempting to ask your favorite teacher, or one from a class you got all A's in, subjects that you showed continued perseverance and dedication to can look better. If you struggled with a class but showed continued improvement, this can often do more for your college application that a subject you aced.

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