It is officially December, which means the final application for freshman admission is a little more than one month away! You are likely in the middle of applying to many different schools, each with their own deadlines and requirements. It is a lot to keep straight, and can definitely make your head start to spin. Here we will unpack one of the most dreaded (but important!) parts of the college application process: the recommendation letter.

At CU Boulder, we know there is so much more to you than just your GPA, your test scores or your résumé. You are a whole person – with ambitions, drive, accomplishments and so much more! That is why at CU Boulder, all applicants undergo a holistic review process. This means the admissions committee carefully reads and considers every part of your application in order to make an admissions decision. The letter of recommendation is just one of the many ways we get to learn about you as an individual and how you will contribute to our community as a Buff. Through this letter, we are able to glean more about your strengths, goals, and character.

So…who should write it?

For freshman applicants, we require one letter to be submitted with your application, and it should be academic in nature. Typically, this means coming from a teacher or counselor at your high school. However, the most important thing is that the person you ask knows you well enough to highlight other dimensions of who you are, especially with respect to academics. Consider the teachers or counselors with whom you have built strong relationships, and/or those that have seen your grow personally and academically over time. If there is no one that immediately comes to mind, think about the classes you did exceptionally well in, or improved in significantly throughout the year. Those teachers are likely to have a lot to say about you!

What should it say?

This is up to the recommender writing your letter. However, what we hope to learn about you are additional qualities, characteristics and/or achievements that may not be clearly distinguished in other parts of your application. Maybe the sciences are not your strong suit, but you went to tutorials every day after school or attended extra workshops to raise your physics grade from a C to a B. Maybe you confided in a counselor about how to keep up with your schoolwork while dealing with a significant family situation. Hearing directly from someone who can speak very specifically to your character, determination and ability to overcome challenges helps the admissions committee understand the full picture of who you are in order to make an informed admissions decision.

Can I submit more than one?

In short, yes. You may have another teacher, mentor, coach, counselor or supporter out there who knows you well enough to address all of the above; however, you do not need to send 10 or 20! More is not necessarily better. We strongly suggest no more than three, although only one is required.

When should I ask my recommender to write a letter for me?

Now! As you might imagine, college application season is a very busy time for your teachers and counselors as well. They have many letters of recommendation to write and many different deadlines to meet, just like you – so do them a favor by asking well in advance (2-4 weeks) of the application deadline. This will help ensure a quality letter is written on your behalf, and that it reaches our office by January 15. You do not want to be scrambling to get everything submitted in time or worrying about whether your recommender sent their letter to us! And of course, always follow up with a nice thank you note.


Brittany Dye

Brittany Dye
Admissions Counselor
Office of Admissions