5 Common Myths About U.S. College Recommendation Letters


While letters of recommendation are not required by all schools, they can help prospective international students stand out in an increasingly competitive applicant pool. However, experts say that recommendation letters are generally accepted by the top universities in the world.

Julia Mansur Cardoso, a Brazilian native, was well-prepared when she applied to the best universities in the United States. She made a point of reaching out to contacts early on for letters of recommendation, and she obtained five separate letters so she could use them for different college programmes.

Prospective International students who are unfamiliar with the college application process in the United States may have some misconceptions about the importance of letters of recommendation. Here are a few things that students should be aware of:

Myth 1: Grades and Test Scores are More Important

According to experts, the admissions committee considers all aspects of a student’s application, and grades and test scores are only one factor – especially in a holistic, highly selective admissions process.

Because many schools are now test-optional or test-blind, letters of recommendation for a student can carry a lot of weightage in the admissions decision process.

“Everything is important,” says Amy Hoffman, associate director of admission for selection and academic initiatives at Miami University in Florida. “I just told a student at a college fair today, ‘You have worked way too hard these last three years to be defined by a number.'”

“Sure, the numbers are important,” Hoffman says. “Colleges want students who will succeed on their campuses, but looking past the numbers reveals more about the student than just grades.”


Myth 2: No One Reads Recommendation Letters

Prospective international students may believe that those reviewing their application will not bother to read the letters, but this is not the case.

“This is completely false! “At Grinnell College in Iowa, we read the recommendation letters,” says Sarah Fischer, assistant vice president of admission.

She believes that letters add an important dimension to the application by assisting schools in better understanding students’ personalities and the roles they play in the classroom, school, and community.

Recommendation letters also provide insight into any special circumstances that may have impacted the student’s learning, as well as shed light on the student’s life experiences.

For the past ten years, Hoffman has been reviewing applications. She claims to have read thousands of recommendation letters and admires teachers and counselors who use “the right adjectives and descriptors to truly let us know the student’s character, abilities, and tenacity.”

Myth 3: A Letter from a High-Ranking Official is Preferable

A letter from a high-profile academic or other leader who barely knows the student will not help an applicant’s chances.

“To be honest,” Hoffman says, “I rarely look at the title of the person writing the letter.” “Regardless of the title, the more weight that letter will carry, the better the recommender not only knows the student, but can genuinely speak to their character, qualities, and abilities.”

The most important thing to Cardoso was receiving a recommendation letter from a teacher who knew her well.

“It’s better to ask someone who knows you well than a random teacher in your field,” Cardoso says.

A high-profile letter, according to Costa, can come across as entitlement or name-dropping, “which could be perceived as a distasteful demonstration of the student’s sense of privilege.”

However, if the well-known person knows the student very well through direct experience, “that can be a powerful endorsement,” she says.


Myth 4: The More Letters, the Better Quality

According to experts, what matters more than quantity when it comes to letters of recommendation is the quality.

“In almost all cases, one succinct, well-written letter will not only suffice, but will contain precisely what the admissions office needs to know about the student,” Hoffman says.

According to Costa, the number of letters required is specified on the Common Application, and most schools do not require more than what is specified.

“It increases their workload and shows that the student does not follow instructions or value the admissions staff’s time,” Costa says.

Even for schools that allow multiple letters, she advises students to use discretion and only include letters that add value and tell the admissions committee something they don’t already know.

“More isn’t always better,” says Fischer. “If the volume is excessive, it may exhaust the application reader and detract from the other good things in the file that require attention.”


Myth 5: Colleges Prefer Students who are Well-Rounded

Counselors emphasize the importance of being well-rounded at every college prep presentation. You probably believed this one for a while, especially after reading online articles about how every Ivy League student supposedly accomplished something extraordinary in a variety of fields.

Although being a Renaissance man or woman is advantageous, colleges do not expect every student to be the next Leonardo da Vinci. That would be absurd. Colleges, on the other hand, want a well-rounded class.

This is precisely why you should strive to excel in one area, the area in which you are most passionate: Colleges want a class of experts rather than thousands of students.


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What are colleges looking for in letters of recommendation?

Your recommenders will provide admissions officers with information about your personal qualities and strengths. Integrity, concern for others, thoughtfulness, humor, and passion are examples of personal qualities. They place a high value on demonstrated leadership and character strength.

Do colleges really read recommendation letters?

Admissions officers value letters of recommendation in particular because the experiences described by high school counsellors and teachers can help them paint a more complete picture of who you are and the impact you will have on campus.

Is 3 recommendation letters too much?

Three recommendations from teachers are not “rude.” If the teachers differ greatly in terms of subject matter and/or teaching style, or if one or two of them know you from an extracurricular activity, three teacher recommendations may be entirely appropriate.

Does it matter who writes your letter of recommendation?

Letters of recommendation should be written by people who are familiar with you and have evaluated your academic or professional work. Both professors and workplace supervisors are suitable. Get some advice from our admissions staff.

Can I use the same recommendation letter for different colleges?

No, you must submit separate letters of recommendation for each application. Because recommenders are asked to provide a recommendation based on the specific programme for which you are applying, letters of recommendation are unique to each application.

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