Archive for the ‘Admissions Advice’ Category

The Ultimate Guide to Letters of Recommendation: Who to Ask and How to Do It

Letters of recommendation. The elusive cousin of resumes and cover letters. While they’re not always invited to the party, they are generally welcomed as a nice surprise when they show up. They convey—possibly more than anything else—your work ethic. It’s important that your recommendation letters evolve as you take each new step in your academic and professional career.

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Who to Ask


Letters of recommendation are required for many college and scholarship applications and many volunteering opportunities. Think about the position or institution you are applying for and select letter writers that know your character and skillset the best. Some of those people may include:

  • Teacher: A teacher you’ve had at least a class or two with will be able to speak to your general work ethic, personality, determination, and willingness to go the extra mile. They are a good person to ask to write about your history of academic achievements.
  • Volunteering coordinator: Do you have previous experience volunteering? If you worked closely with a supervisor or volunteer coordinator during your experience, they would be a perfect candidate to write about your willingness to help and your dedication to a specific community.
  • Employer: Juggling a part-time job with school, extra-curricular activities, and volunteering says a lot about your ability to balance multiple things at once. Your employer will be able to talk about your punctuality, your enthusiasm to succeed, and how well you work with a team.


Recommendation letters are going to be important for three main things: internships, graduate programs, and your first out-of-school job. Even if a letter of recommendation isn’t specifically asked for, it is not a bad idea to have a few written up on your behalf to bring them with you to interviews. Not only does it show that you are a person worth vouching for, but it shows that you are willing to go the extra mile.

  • Academic advisor: Most colleges require each student to have an academic advisor. This is someone that should know your academic history as well as your passion for your field. Encourage them to write about your thirst for knowledge and excitement learn new things.
  • Internship supervisor: A supervisor from a previous internship is the best person to recommend you for your next internship. If you implemented any changes or created a project during your internship, ask your supervisor to mention that process and how it helped their business.
  • Mentor: If you’ve found a mentor in college, you should absolutely ask them to write you a letter of recommendation. Depending on your relationship, this is someone who will know what kind of work and activities you’ve been involved in, what you want to do in the future, and who can speak to what you’re capable of—chances are it’s a lot!

How to Ask

Writing a good letter of recommendation is no easy task. Once you decide who you want to ask, you need to take into account their schedule, how well they know you, and what they are best suited to write about. Follow these tips for a smooth process.

  • Be courteous: Writing one of these letters takes time. Make sure you ask if they’d be willing to write the letter at least a month before you need it. This gives plenty of time for them to come back to you with questions and work through multiple drafts. It also gives you time to find someone new if for some reason they say no or have to back out. It is your responsibility to let them know upfront of any deadlines or special requirements for the letter.
  • Be helpful: In order to write a great letter, your references will need details. Make sure to supply letter writers with a copy of your resume and cover letter, as well as the position description if the letter is going to be for something specific. You should let your writer know if you want them to mention specific pieces of information. It’s important to let them feel free to write their true opinions, but it’s never a bad thing to tell them why you are asking them to write the letter and what you think they can best speak about. Think of this as an opportunity to have someone else talk about things you couldn’t fit in your resume.
  • Be thankful: The process isn’t over when they hand you their letter. Make sure to look it over (unless it’s required to be sealed) and verify that it’s relevant and what you need for your application. After you’ve sent it off, be sure to thank your writer. An old fashioned thank you note is the best way to go, and mention how much it meant to you that they were willing to vouch for you and help you achieve your goals.

Whether you’re applying for a scholarship, a new job, a graduate program, or you just want something to supplement your resume, a strong letter of recommendation can set you apart from other applicants. Not only does it show your ability to build and maintain working relationships, a well-written letter gives potential employers, colleges, and scholarship providers an idea of your past achievements and work-ethic. To ensure a useful and relevant letter, ask someone who has a history of working with or advising you to write a recommendation. Provide the writer with examples of your work, an updated resume, and a brief description of the position or organization you are applying to.

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Holly King is a recently graduated writer living in Salt Lake City, UT. When not scouring the internet for updates in business, lifestyles, and technology, she is tending to her garden and trying to perfect the world’s best egg sandwich.

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How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?

Categories: Admissions Advice

photo2You know you should to apply to safety, target, and reach schools, but exactly how many of each do you need? It’s easy to say that students should apply to as many schools as possible; however, each application often requires time (even the common app) and money. The number of colleges you apply to should depend on your unique situation. Since you’ll be the one filling out those applications, it’s best to be rational and find a plan that works for you. Here are a few factors to consider when determining that number:

Decision Timelines

Schools will usually let you know when you should expect to receive an admissions answer. Are you applying Early Decision? Early Action? Does your #1 choice do rolling admissions? You may be confident of your chances of getting into a school that will let you know their decision quickly. If you would have enough time to apply to more schools after you receive the decision (in case you aren’t accepted), you may want to start off applying to only a few schools. If most of the schools on your list won’t give you an answer until May, you’ll probably want to apply to more schools, including safety schools, right off the bat.


Though some schools don’t have application fees and waivers may be available to qualified applicants, you may end up paying a lot of money just to apply to college. Talk to your family or counselor about how you will be paying your application fees and determine a budget if necessary. Need to slim down your application list? Be direct and only apply to schools you think you may actually want to attend. Don’t apply to schools simply to see if you can get in, or just because you told someone you would apply.


Here’s where you need to do some major self-reflection. It’s time to be honest with yourself so you can make an attainable application plan. Ask yourself questions about your past habits and history. Do you tend to bite off more than you can chew? Do you procrastinate? If so, you may want to narrow down your focus so you can be sure you are only submitting quality applications. Do you change your mind frequently? Would any future outside forces/events change your decision? If it’s possible you could decide in May that you’d rather stay closer to home, or if you insist on knowing at least one other person on campus, you’ll want to be sure that you’ll have choices come decision time.


Finally, take into account the amount of research you’ve done and how much left you still need to do. If you haven’t visited any schools on your list by the time you start applying, or are still finding new schools that peak your interest, give yourself plenty of options. On the other hand, if you’ve taken multiple campus tours and have pretty much memorized facts of off admissions brochures, you can probably narrow down your list more. However, don’t be afraid of last minute additions. If a new school catches your eye late in the game and you want to apply, go with your gut if possible. Many schools offer special programs and visits for accepted students still making their final decision.

Of course, there is no perfect number of schools to apply to, and your list may change as you go through and learn from the application process. Stay open-minded, yet focused on the aspects of schools that matter most to you. Visit our Admissions Tips & Tools for more free resources to help you out along the way.

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Didn’t Get into Your Dream College? Why Community College May Be Your Best Plan B.

Categories: Admissions Advice

planB-500Whether you had your heart set on going to the same college as your best friends or you’ve been dreaming of having a specific alma mater for as long as you can remember, whatever the reason, it stings when your Plan A college choice falls through. As you consider your other options, I’d like to present one you may not have considered: community college.

While you may have heard about the community college option before, you might not know the full story. Most of what you hear about community college is that it is a cheaper alternative to a four-year institution. While the financial benefits are true (which I’ll get into later), they are only one of many benefits available to community college students. The other big community college opportunity that you may not have considered? Transfer.

Community College is the Path Back into Your Dream School

With the exception of a few schools (I’m looking at you, Princeton), community college students have the ability to transfer into any school in the country after just two years of course work. So if you had your heart set on an Ivy League school or your local state college, community college is your second chance for admission. In fact, you might even have a statistically higher chance of getting into a four-year school as a transfer student than you did as a high school senior. Last year, I compared the freshman acceptance rates to the transfer acceptance rates of 20 randomly selected schools from a Top 100 Universities list and found that, on average, students have a 30% greater likelihood of being accepted as a transfer student than as a freshman applicant.

Statistics aside, if you want to transfer from community college successfully, you are going to need the right strategy. The major component of a successful transfer strategy is course selection. The courses you take in community college and the grades you earn in those classes are the single most important aspect of your transfer application. You should have a 3.5 GPA or higher to be a competitive applicant at colleges with highly selective admissions, and above a 3.0 GPA for other institutions depending on their selectivity. When it comes to your courses, you should be taking courses that (A) fulfill your community college’s associate’s degree requirements, and (B) prepare you to start as a junior in your major after you transfer. You could use a tool like Transfer Bootcamp to automatically find the best courses for transfer or you could look up the courses that your transfer institution requires of its freshman and sophomore students and attempt to take similar classes at your community college. When all is said and done, if you perform well in the right classes, you can continue to earn your bachelor’s degree at the schools of your choice.

Choose Community College, Not Student Debt

Hindsight is 20/20, and the same rule applies to student loan debt. The situations that cause many students to take on unnecessary amounts of student debt may sound familiar: maybe you were accepted into your dream school, but received significantly less financial aid than expected, or perhaps you were rejected from your top choice and the back-up schools required you to take on student debt. This is one of those “what do I do now?” moments that occur all too frequently. The fact is, you don’t have to choose student debt, because community college is always an option. With an average full-year tuition cost of just $2,076, plus access to federal financial aid and scholarships, spending two years at a community college and then transferring could save you over $55,000 in tuition and fees alone compared to a private college.

Now, just because community college is cheaper than a four-year school doesn’t mean that you’re getting a lower caliber education. Community college professors hold master’s degrees and PhDs, and some of them even teach part-time at top-tier universities. What makes a community college education less expensive than a four-year college education is the lack of the bells and whistles of traditional colleges (sports stadiums, student housing, etc). With all that said, if you find yourself in a situation where your options are debt or community college, choose community college!

Combine transfer with the financial benefits of community college, and you’ve got a powerful education strategy that could open up a myriad of doors. All of this, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of opportunities for community college students (scholarships, internships, career pathways, etc). Hopefully, you’ll strongly consider the community college option and, who knows, you might just end up at your dream school after all.

Diane Melville is Founder & CEO at Transfer Bootcamp and the author of “The Community College Advantage: Your Guide to a Low-Cost, High-Reward Community College Experience.” Find her on Twitter @DianeMelville
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