how likely you are to succeed
how much you'll benefit the community you are going to join
硬性指标 - previous academic success is a great predictor of future academic success
软性指标 - certain personality traits are preferred: integrity, leadership, curiosity, creativity, empathy, perseverance, motivation, ambition, collaboration, confidence, and others. You don't need to be perfect in all dimensions, but some of these should apply strongly to you.
当你申请一个 highly selective 的学校时，与你竞争的对手几乎每个人都有非常 strong 的 academic records, test scores, 这一点比较客观，是硬性指标，那剩下的就是好的 personality traits, 软性指标了，我想没有人会自己说自己怎么不好，相反都会说自己如何具有上面提到的好的 personality traits, 所以老师在推荐信里的内容就变得更重要，因为它可以让别人客观地看到第三者对你的 personality traits 的评价。一封好的推荐信应该是可以展现学生的个性和个人素质。你不希望老师写的推荐信只是重复你的简历，它需要提供关于这个学生是怎样一个人的额外信息，而且需要有许多的细节去证明。老师对学生的了解决定了他/她会写怎么样的推荐信，沟通是了解的基础，这种沟通包括课业上的，更包括课业之外的，学生对人对事的态度会表现在与老师接触的点点滴滴中，不经意间老师会对学生的整体品质素质有所体会，这些是没有人可以强加给老师的。如果说申请大学招生官希望听到学生的心声，我想他们也同时希望听到推荐老师的心声，而不只是表面的东西。希望大家告诉自己的孩子，在整个高中阶段除了努力学习外，要学会与老师很好地沟通，而这种沟通的本能可能是从很小的时候就慢慢养成。
According to the official website of MIT:
A Guide To Writing Evaluations for MIT
Because of our highly competitive applicant pool, letters of recommendation hold substantial weight in our admissions decisions. A well-written letter for an outstanding applicant can highlight impressive characteristics beyond his/her own self-advocacy. We are looking for people who have and will make an impact—the difference between a letter that supports and a letter that raves about a special student.
Both guidance counselor and teacher evaluations are most helpful when they are specific and storied. They should provide us with the information and impressions we cannot glean from the rest of the application. Try to give a complete sketch of the student and the context of his/her accomplishments. Support your conclusions with facts and anecdotes whenever possible. A story or incident that conveys the character or merit of the individual is more telling than a mere statement like "Mary is mature."
Try to address the following questions in your evaluation:
What is the context of your relationship with the applicant? If you do not know the applicant well and are only able to write a brief summary, please acknowledge this.
Has the student demonstrated a willingness to take intellectual risks and go beyond the normal classroom experience?
Does the applicant have any unusual competence, talent or leadership abilities?
What motivates this person? What excites him/her?
How does the applicant interact with teachers? With peers? Describe his/her personality and social skills.
What will you remember most about this person?
If you have knowledge of MIT, what leads you to believe MIT is a good match for this person? How might he/she fit into the MIT community and grow from the MIT experience?
Has the applicant ever experienced disappointment or failure? If so, how did he/she react?
Are there any unusual family or community circumstances of which we should be aware?
Please pay special attention to the opening and closing of your evaluation. Remember, we are reading over 20,000 applications, and we appreciate strong statements that we'll remember as we evaluate each candidate. With that said, please write in a way that makes you feel comfortable and do not shy away from giving us your honest impressions. We are only looking for glowing superlatives if they are backed up with examples and give us context; what is behind a student's achievements. Above all else, make sure to go beyond a student's grades and academic performance. We can get this information from other parts of the application.
Letters of recommendation are confidential in the MIT admissions process.
According to the official website of Yale:
Two Teacher Recommendations
High school teachers can provide extremely helpful information in their evaluations. In addition to discussing your performance in their class or classes, teachers may also write about your motivation, intellectual curiosity, energy, relationships with classmates, and impact on the classroom environment. Solicit recommendations from teachers who have taught you in core academic subjects, who know you well, and who have seen you at your best. It is also preferable, but not required, that letters come from teachers who have taught you during your junior or senior year of high school. Through experience, admissions officers have found that letters from junior or senior year teachers are the most illuminating. Yale does not encourage supplemental letters of recommendation.
According to the official website of Brown:
We require 2 teacher recommendations, and we will accept up to 4 through the Common Application. Please note that if you are considering a Bachelor of Science degree or the Program in Liberal Medical Education, at least one of your recommendations should come from a math or science teacher.
In our experience, the required counselor recommendation and two teacher recommendations provide all we need to make a thoughtful, informed admission decision. If, however, someone has unique knowledge of certain strengths or accomplishments that would not be addressed in the required recommendations, you are welcome to have another person write on your behalf. You may submit up to 4 teacher recommendations through the Common Application.
Recommender who are people other than your teachers and school counselor should send the letter directly to the Office of College Admission, Box 1876, Brown University, Providence RI 02912, or they may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxed to 401-863-9300. Be sure to ask your recommender to include your full name and high school in their letter, so that we can match the letter to your application.
According to the official website of Penn:
Penn requires two (2) letters of recommendation from academic teachers, which allows the Office of Admissions to understand a student's presence and impact in the classroom and school community. If an applicant would like to submit another letter of recommendation beyond this requirement, we strongly recommend that it is not from another academic teacher. Examples of an appropriate recommender include an athletic coach, an internship or research supervisor, a boss at a part-time job, or a local clergy member. These additional recommendations are only helpful if the recommender knows the student personally and can write specifically about him or her. Letters from family members or close family friends traditionally do not provide information that is helpful to the evaluation process. Please have this optional additional letter of recommendation (no more than one) submitted through the Coalition or Common Application.
According to the official website of Columbia:
Two Teacher Recommendations
These recommendations must come from teachers who taught you in academic disciplines
For engineering applicants, one must come from a math or science teacher
We welcome an additional letter of recommendation if the writer has worked with you in a researcher or college course capacity. Any supplementary recommendations should not be completed on the Teacher Report forms, but instead submitted directly to our office. The Committee discourages the submission of additional recommendations, as admissions decisions will be based primarily on the required recommendations from your high school teachers and secondary school/guidance counselor.
According to the official website of Dartmouth:
Counselor Evaluation: The written evaluation from your counselor is included in your Secondary School Report.
2 Teacher Evaluations: We want to know from your junior- or senior-year teachers of academic classes (math, history, etc.) what you are like in the classroom.
Arts Instructor: If you are submitting an arts supplement for review, please invite your arts instructor to submit a recommendation letter via Dartmouth Slideroom.
Additional Recommendation: You may submit an additional recommendation letter via the Common Application "Other Recommender" section.
According to the official website of Stanford:
We recommend selecting grade 11 or 12 teachers in two of the following subject areas:
You may submit a letter from a teacher who taught you in grade 10 if the coursework was advanced (e.g., Honors, AP, IB). If your school does not offer such designations, use your discretion when asking a teacher from grade 10. We will accept a maximum of two letters of recommendation from teachers.
If English is not the primary language of instruction at your school, review our guidelines for translating letters of recommendation (http://admission.stanford.edu/apply/international/index.html#non_english) .
You may submit one optional letter of recommendation if there is another person who knows you well and will provide new insights about you. Ask your recommender to note your full legal name, school name and date of birth at the top of the letter. Your recommender may upload the letter to your application or send by email (email@example.com), mail or fax: (650) 723-6050. No form is required.
According to the official website of Caltech:
Caltech requires two letters of evaluation from teachers:
1 math or science teacher evaluation
1 humanities or social sciences teacher evaluation
You may submit letters of evaluation from teachers who have instructured you during any year of high school. We recommend asking teachers who can best speak to your performance as a student in their classroom.
In order to fulfill the humanities or social science teacher evaluation requirement, we ask that you submit evaluations from teachers who have evaluated your writing. In the past, students have used recommendations from the following classes to fulfill this requirement: English, Foreign Language, Philosophy, Religion, History, Economics, Government, Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology.
In addition to the two required teacher evaluations, you are welcome to submit up to two additional evaluations from a mentor or supervisor who knows you in a different context. You may submit this letter through the Common Application or Coalition Application, or it may be emailed directly to our office at firstname.lastname@example.org. If your recommender emails the letter to our office, please be sure the letter includes your full name and birthdate since Caltech does not have an official form to accompany this additional letter. We will not accept any letters sent by the student/applicant.
When to Ask for Recommendations
既然知道推荐信的重要性，就一定要确保学生在申请最早截止日期前至少一个月向推荐老师提出要求，甚至是越早越好。很多老师喜欢在夏天他们比较空闲的时候写推荐信。如果学生需要提交早申请 (EA or ED), 那一定要在十二年级一开学就与推荐老师联系，因为通常每个老师需要为很多位同学写推荐信，这会花费他们大量的时间，老师只有在足够宽松的时间里才能更好地完成推荐信。
Some Final Tips
According to the official website of College Board:
Some teachers write many recommendation letters each year. Even if they know you well, it’s a good idea to take some time to speak with them. Make it easy for them to give positive, detailed information about your achievements and your potential by refreshing their memory. Here’s how:
Talk to them about your class participation.
Remind them of specific work or projects you’re proud of.
Tell them what you learned in class.
Mention any challenges you overcame.
Give them the information they need to provide specific examples of your work.
If you need a recommendation letter from a counselor or other school official, follow these guidelines:
Make an appointment ahead of time.
Talk about your accomplishments, hobbies and plans for college and the future.
If you need to discuss part of your tran — low grades during your sophomore year, for example — do so. Explain why you had difficulty and discuss how you've changed and improved since then.
Whether approaching teachers, a counselor or another reference, you may want to provide them with a resume that briefly outlines your activities, both in and outside the classroom, and your goals.