Letters of recommendation

By Tom

We’re into the thick of application season now – my colleagues and I are sequestered in our offices, spending the bulk of our time reviewing applications, while the mail continues to pour in – so please check back regularly for some updates and advice I’ll be posting in the coming weeks.

I just wanted to take a moment and reiterate our policy regarding letters of recommendation. As you prepare to submit your application, please keep this in mind. Unlike many universities, Richmond only requires one letter of recommendation, and we ask that it come from your school guidance counselor or another school official. (We require this because school officials are able to provide the highly-important context that we need, particularly in evaluating your transcript.) If your guidance counselor is someone who knows you well, meets with you regularly, and can write a strong personal recommendation for you, congratulations – you’re done!

If, however, your counselor does not know you very well personally (as was the case for me, coming from a public high school with 400 students in a graduating class), we generally find it helpful to have a letter from a teacher who knows you a little bit better and can speak to your personality and everyday academic performance.

We will accept a maximum of three recommendations in total. But I can honestly tell you, speaking for myself and my colleagues on the admission committee, that two letters of recommendation – one counselor and one teacher – is almost always the perfect number. I am certain that each of you could find dozens of people to write glowing recommendations; but in our effort to be thorough and still leave time to spend with every application, we usually find two letters to be the ideal number.

The only reason to submit a third letter of recommendation is if you strongly feel that the third person could provide a completely different, entirely unique perspective on you, not shared with either of the first two. Often times a third recommendation, while well-written and very positive, says essentially the same things that the first two did. This does not mean that it’s a bad thing or that the person’s opinion is not entirely valid, but rather that we don’t really need it for our review process, and it will save our mail processing people a lot of time, which they can put into carefully and efficiently handling the already high volume of mail. (Think about it: for every additional letter Richmond’s applicant pool submits, that’s 8000 additional pieces to file away.)

I hope that’s helpful to you as you plan your application, and I look forward to reading many wonderful letters of recommendation in the months to come!

And on a purely personal note, if you’ve been following my blog posts this fall, you’ll know that I’ve been training for the Richmond Marathon (and it’s been quite an adventure, getting in all the necessary miles while traveling all over the place recruiting!) Well, the big day was this past Saturday, and I’m happy to say I’ve now successfully completed my first marathon. The weather was less than ideal (thanks, Richmond, for that one day of 75-degree 95-percent-humidity in the middle of November), but I finished nonetheless. My medal is now hanging in my office… and I’m starting to think about the next one.


  1. Posted December 5, 2008 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    Great points Tom. having worked as an admissions counselor myself, I agree that 2-3 very well written letters are better than several average ones. If a students submitted several, admissions usually felt they were trying to cover up something.

  2. Katherine Campbell
    Posted December 7, 2008 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Is there a form that our teacher can fill out? If so, where would I find that? Or is it just a letter speaking on the individual from the teacher. Thank you!

    Katherine Campbell

    • Tom
      Posted December 8, 2008 at 1:38 pm | Permalink


      Great question! We don’t have an official form for teacher recommendations, since they’re not officially required. Students who choose to submit a second letter from a teacher can use the generic Common Application form if they wish; otherwise, a self-standing letter is perfectly fine (most students go with this option).


  3. Sauvik
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Hey Tom,

    In Commonapp.org, it says that other than the counselor evaluation no other evaluation is required for this school.How do I send a teacher recommendation to your school?

    • Tom
      Posted December 17, 2008 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

      Excellent question. If your school uses the Common Application, your school can have a teacher recommendation sent electronically along with your Secondary School Report. Otherwise, you can simply have your teacher mail a hard copy of the recommendation to our office (like in the old days). 😉 As long as your name is on it, we’ll be sure to file it with your application.

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