Students applying to selective US unis will need recommendations that are different than the standard UCAS letter! Students will need a counsellor letter, often written by a Form Tutor, Housemaster/mistress, or Head of Sixth Form. Also, the student will need two teacher recommendations. 


Teacher recommendations should come from two A-level or International Baccalaureate teachers from two of the student’s major subjects (subjects that are their most significant strengths). Recommendation letters are used by the university to add a different voice to the student’s application, which will help differentiate the student from other top applicants. The recommendation letters should also give a comprehensive overview of the student and bring different threads of the application together – giving a sense of the student’s academic achievements, extracurricular involvement, leadership ability, and their personality. 


What do US Universities Look for in Recommendation Letters?


Collectively, all three recommendation letters have the ultimate goal of showing why a student meets the holistic admissions criteria that US universities use. Letters should include anecdotes and examples to demonstrate these qualities.


In the teacher recommendation letters, here are the key points US universities look for:


Academic performance and potential: what has the student achieved? Why would this student be a great candidate at a university? What potential does the student have and what are their aspirations?


Interactions with others (peers in the classroom, teachers, and staff): What does this student contribute to class? How do they interact with others?


Context of the student’s achievements: Use language that compares this student to the typical student and peers. Emphasize if they are particularly talented or stand out in a specific area, if they have made the most of the opportunities offered by the school, and how rigorous their course load is in light of the options they were given. For example, did the student push themselves to take more challenging subjects by taking 4 full A-Levels instead of dropping one after AS year like most students?


Anecdotal evidence and examples: Make your letter impactful and bring your student to life for the Admissions Officers by using examples and anecdotes that allow them to evaluate how your student will fit into their institution.


To get accepted to a selective US uni, strong teacher recommendations are required! At A-List, we help students select the best teachers for this part of the application. Also, we offer training for schools and teachers! We would be delighted to work with your school as you develop a strong US university programme. 


Teacher Recommendations: Who to Ask and What They Should Look Like
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