Recommendations are a crucial part of any student's college application. No matter how exceptional a student appears based on their essay, short answers, and resume, the recommendations serve as a reliable confirmation that the student is as promising as the rest of their application implies. Because of the power that recommendations hold, it's important to discerning when choosing recommenders.
It's even more important at UT, where a recent policy change means that they now only allow for two letters of recommendation. With only two chances, students really need to consider who will write the best recommendation for them. For starters, they should be sure the recommenders they choose know them well enough to say something unique about them. If a student's recommendations are boilerplate or general—and don't speak specifically to that student's strengths and abilities—they won't serve as a value-add for the application. Similarly, students should choose people who they think would be excited to write these recommendations, as that excitement will shine through in the letters and stand out to admissions officers.
When it comes to UT letters of recommendation, students should take this opportunity to create a case for their first-choice major. That means asking for recommendations from people who can speak to the student's skills, abilities, and passion as it relates to their major choice.
Let's look at an example. Say your student's first-choice major is computer science. Here are a few people who might be able to highlight those skills:
- A computer science teacher. It's an obvious choice, but a great one. This teacher can speak to your student's academic abilities in the subject as well as their growth mindset in this field. Did they grow over the course of the school year? Did they show a demonstrated interest in the topic? Did they serve as a leader for the classroom?
- An internship supervisor for a CS-related position. If your student did an internship related to their major, their supervisor is a great recommender. They'll be able to highlight your student's strengths outside the classroom and speak to their professional demeanor.
- A tutor for a coding class. If your student went out of their way to learn CS skills on their own, they may have a tutor who was helping them along the way. This person can talk about the student as a self-starter and independent learner while still highlighting their experience within the first-choice major.
Students have an opportunity here to move their case forward with their letters of recommendation, but they need to put some serious thought into who to ask. It's a particularly important choice at UT because of the emphasis on first-choice majors and the limited number of recommendations allowed. That means that a student's UT recommenders may be different from those they use for other colleges—where they might have a teacher from a class unrelated to their potential major write a recommendation for one school, that wouldn't be as appropriate for a UT application where they want to show their demonstrated interest in their first choice major.