The Ivy Coach Daily

September 10, 2023

How Many Letters of Recommendation Should I Submit for College?

Students strolling around UC Berkeley campus on a sunny day
The University of California, Berkeley does not require letters of recommendation for undergraduate admission.

How many letters of recommendation should your child submit to colleges? It’s a common question on the minds of parents and students alike navigating the churning waters of elite college admissions. In short, the answer is typically three: one from the school counselor and two from teachers. But, of course, there’s a longer answer too: it depends on the school and the circumstance. In most cases, however, the answer is three letters of recommendation.

A few top universities don’t require any letter of recommendation. For example, as a matter of policy, the University of California schools neither require nor accept letters of recommendation when applications are submitted. The admissions committee may request a letter of recommendation later on through augmented review. Still, this process, reserved for students on the cusp of admissions when additional insight into the student is needed, is relatively rare.

If you’re wondering why some universities stopped requiring or accepting letters of recommendation, it typically traces to the spirit of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Studies have demonstrated that teachers at top high schools, who usually have fewer students than those at less prestigious high schools, prepared letters of recommendation that gave their students a competitive advantage. It’s much of the same logic that led some elite universities, like the University of California schools, to no longer consider the SAT or ACT in the admissions process.

Colleges That Don’t Require a Letter of Recommendation

The following schools that do not require letters of recommendation are among the top 50 national universities, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best National Universities”)Letter of Recommendation Requirements
University of California, Berkeley#20None
University of California, Los Angeles#20None
University of Florida#29None
University of California, Santa Barbara#32None
University of California, Irvine#34None
University of California, San Diego#34None
University of California, Davis#38None
University of Texas at Austin#38None
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign#41None
Georgia Institute of Technology#44None
The Ohio State University#49None
University of Georgia#49None

* While New York University (#25) does not require a letter of recommendation, the school offers students the chance to include an optional letter from a person of authority.

All of the liberal arts colleges ranked in the top 25 of the 2023 US News & World Report ranking require recommendation(s).

Colleges That Require One Counselor Letter of Recommendation

The following school that requires only a school counselor’s letter of recommendation is among the 50 top national universities, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best National Universities”)Letter of Recommendation Requirements
University of Southern California#25Counselor

The following school that requires only a school counselor’s letter of recommendation is among the 25 top liberal arts colleges, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best Liberal Arts Colleges”)Letter of Recommendation Requirements
University of Richmond#18Counselor

Colleges That Require One Counselor Letter and One Teacher Letter of Recommendation

The following schools that require a school counselor’s letter of recommendation and one teacher’s letter of recommendation are among the 50 top national universities, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best National Universities”)Letter of Recommendation Requirements
University of California, Berkeley#20None
University of California, Los Angeles#20None
University of Florida#29None
University of California, Santa Barbara#32None
University of California, Irvine#34None
University of California, San Diego#34None
University of California, Davis#38None
University of Texas at Austin#38None
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign#41None
Georgia Institute of Technology#44None
The Ohio State University#49None
University of Georgia#49None

The following schools that require a school counselor’s letter of recommendation and one teacher’s letter of recommendation are among the 25 top liberal arts colleges, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

Colleges That Require One Teacher Letter of Recommendation

The following schools that require a school counselor’s letter of recommendation and two teacher letters of recommendation are among the 50 top national universities, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best National Universities”)Letter of Recommendation Requirements
University of California, Berkeley#20None
University of California, Los Angeles#20None
University of Florida#29None
University of California, Santa Barbara#32None
University of California, Irvine#34None
University of California, San Diego#34None
University of California, Davis#38None
University of Texas at Austin#38None
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign#41None
Georgia Institute of Technology#44None
The Ohio State University#49None
University of Georgia#49None

All of the liberal arts colleges ranked in the top 25 of the 2023 US News & World Report ranking require a counselor’s letter of recommendation in addition to either one or two teacher letters of recommendation, with the exception of the University of Richmond, which only requires the counselor’s letter.

Colleges That Require One Counselor Letter of Recommendation

The following school that requires only a school counselor’s letter of recommendation is among the 50 top national universities, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best National Universities”)Letter of Recommendation Requirements
University of Southern California#25Counselor

The following school that requires only a school counselor’s letter of recommendation is among the 25 top liberal arts colleges, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best Liberal Arts Colleges”)Letter of Recommendation Requirements
University of Richmond#18Counselor

Colleges That Require One Counselor Letter and One Teacher Letter of Recommendation

The following schools that require a school counselor’s letter of recommendation and one teacher’s letter of recommendation are among the 50 top national universities, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best National Universities”)Letter of Recommendation Requirements
University of Pennsylvania#7Counselor, 1 Teacher
Northwestern University#10Counselor, 1 Teacher
Washington University in St. Louis#15Counselor, 1 Teacher
University of Notre Dame#18Counselor, 1 Teacher
Carnegie Mellon University#22Counselor, 1 Teacher
Georgetown University#22Counselor, 1 Teacher
Wake Forest University#29Counselor, 1 Teacher
Tufts University#32Counselor, 1 Teacher
University or Rochester#36Counselor, 1 Teacher
Boston University#41Counselor, 1 Teacher
Brandeis University#44Counselor, 1 Teacher
Northeastern University#44Counselor, 1 Teacher

The following schools that require a school counselor’s letter of recommendation and one teacher’s letter of recommendation are among the 25 top liberal arts colleges, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best Liberal Arts Colleges”)Letter of Recommendation Requirements
Bowdoin College#6Counselor, 1 Teacher
Claremont McKenna College#9Counselor, 1 Teacher
Vassar College#13Counselor, 1 Teacher
Hamilton College#15Counselor, 1 Teacher
Bates College#25Counselor, 1 Teacher

Colleges That Require One Teacher Letter of Recommendation

The following schools that require a school counselor’s letter of recommendation and two teacher letters of recommendation are among the 50 top national universities, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best National Universities”)Letter of Recommendation Requirements
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor#251 Teacher
University of Virginia#251 Teacher
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill#291 Teacher
University of Wisconsin – Madison#381 Teacher

Colleges That Require One Counselor Letter and Two Teacher Letters of Recommendation

The following schools that require a school counselor’s letter of recommendation and two teacher letters of recommendation are among the 50 top national universities, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best National Universities”)Letter of Recommendation Requirements
Princeton University#1Counselor, 2 Teachers
Massachusetts Institute of Technology#2Counselor, 2 Teachers
Harvard University#3Counselor, 2 Teachers
Stanford University#3Counselor, 2 Teachers
Yale University#3Counselor, 2 Teachers
University of Chicago#6Counselor, 2 Teachers
Johns Hopkins University#7Counselor, 2 Teachers
California Institute of Technology#9Counselor, 2 Teachers
Duke University#10Counselor, 2 Teachers
Dartmouth College#12Counselor, 2 Teachers
Brown University#13Counselor, 2 Teachers
Vanderbilt University#13Counselor, 2 Teachers
Rice University#15Counselor, 2 Teachers
Cornell University#17Counselor, 2 Teachers
Columbia University#18Counselor, 2 Teachers
Emory University#22Counselor, 2 Teachers
Boston College#36Counselor, 2 Teachers
Case Western Reserve University#44Counselor, 2 Teachers

The following schools that require a school counselor’s letter of recommendation and two teacher letters of recommendation are among the 25 top liberal arts colleges, based on the 2023 US News & World Report ranking:

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best Liberal Arts Colleges”)Letter of Recommendation Requirements
Williams College#1Counselor, 2 Teachers
Amherst College#2Counselor, 2 Teachers
Pomona College#3Counselor, 2 Teachers
Swarthmore College#4Counselor, 2 Teachers
Wellesley College#5Counselor, 2 Teachers
Carleton College#6Counselor, 2 Teachers
Middlebury College#11Counselor, 2 Teachers
Washington and Lee University#11Counselor, 2 Teachers
Smith College#13Counselor, 2 Teachers
Davidson College#15Counselor, 2 Teachers
Grinnell College#15Counselor, 2 Teachers
Barnard College#18Counselor, 2 Teachers
Colgate University#18Counselor, 2 Teachers
Haverford College#18Counselor, 2 Teachers
Wesleyan University#18Counselor, 2 Teachers
Colby College#24Counselor, 2 Teachers

Should You Submit Additional Letters of Recommendation?

An expression in elite college admissions goes, “The thicker the file, the thicker the student.” Submitting superfluous material often, although not always, undercuts a student’s case for admission. In short, it can risk rendering them less likable. If a student submits a six-page resume filled with awards that we at Ivy Coach believe are meaningless in elite college admissions (e.g., National Society of High School Scholars), those extra credentials hurt more than help.

Similarly, submitting an additional letter of recommendation from a senator or celebrity who doesn’t know the student well will likely hurt more than help. It will appear the student is trying to impress admissions officers. That said, if a student did research at a local university, we’re all for the professor who oversaw that research submitting an additional letter of recommendation. So, it depends, but in most cases, we’re not in favor of that extra letter of recommendation.

How to Secure a Great Counselor Letter of Recommendation

Too often, students ask their counselor to write a letter of recommendation on their behalf and expect it to be great. But that’s the wrong approach. At most high schools, public and private, school counselors send out forms — often to parents and students — in advance of junior parent meetings. What goes in these forms matters as it’s the source material from which the counselor will likely base their letter of recommendation.

So what should go in those parent and student forms for the counselors? Anecdotes that showcase the student’s passion for their singular hook — whatever that singular hook might be. If it’s archaeology, fill up that form with stories showcasing the students’ passion for their archaeological activities. If it’s psychology, let’s hear about how they explore psychological science both at and outside school.

While students waive their FERPA rights ever to see what the counselor (and teachers) submit in their letters of recommendation, in our experience, counselors and teachers want to help students. But, left on their own, they write generic letters that often do not serve their students. By offering stories that showcase their passion for their singular hook, students can better control the narrative in their counselor’s letter of recommendation.

How to Secure Great Teacher Letters of Recommendation

When asked to write letters of recommendation for students, only some high school teachers give their students forms to complete. But just because a teacher doesn’t give a student a form doesn’t mean that student can’t share with that teacher a set of anecdotes that showcase their contributions to the class and passion for the discipline.

Teachers need reminders of comments made in class discussions and projects worked on, times they’ve helped classmates understand concepts, and much more. Left on their own, teachers often write generic letters of recommendation (English teachers tend to write the worst letters because they’re less likely to take input than math, science, foreign language, or history teachers). Yet by supplying anecdotes to these teachers, there’s a greater likelihood the letter gets specific.

While teachers generally want to help their students when they agree to write letters of recommendation, they typically need help executing that help.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with Securing Great Letters of Recommendation

Through Ivy Coach’s packages, we help students supply their school counselors and teachers with anecdotes that they then give to their recommenders. When the school counselor or teachers offer forms to students and parents, we help our students and their parents fill them up with memorable stories that showcase the student’s intellectual curiosity. If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s packages, fill out our free college admissions consultation form, and we’ll be in touch.

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