Letter of recommendations is a very confusing aspect of college admissions. Either student misses their importance or over think it. Ideally speaking, letters of recommendation provide a first-hand account of who the student is, their conduct in an educational setting, enriching it with anecdotes etc. Useful recommendation letters provide depth above and beyond the objective data found in the school transcript and/or standardized test scores, thereby giving admissions officers a sense of what the student will bring to their campuses.
When it comes to the letter of recommendations, there is one simple rule: The more exclusive the college, the more important the recommendation letters.
Many colleges require letters from one counselor and two academic teachers – with a preference for eleventh-grade instructors – though it’s not a requirement. If an instructor taught the student in the tenth grade and will do so again as a senior, that’s fine. Regardless of how well the student did in their freshmen year, it is not advisable to dig that back far for a recommendation letter. And the teacher who loves you but hasn’t taught you since middle school is a non-starter.
Some overly ambitious students try to stuff their application folder with extra letters of recommendation especially from people who have ‘merely’ known the student and not interacted with them in any meaningful way. These unsolicited testimonials seldom, if ever, have the right impact on the evaluation.
However, if you have a coach, adviser, employer, Scoutmaster, etc. who can provide meaningful insight that goes beyond academics, then one additional letter might be warranted but be very careful when using extra letters lest they come across as ‘padding’ to the admissions officers.
If you have not already done so, seek out the teachers for your letters right now. As you progress further into the school year, the work load on them will only increase and their ability to pay attention to details, despite their best intents, will dwindle.