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In case you’re new, let me refresh on the concept of boosts: they are specific achievements, accomplishments, bullet points on your resume and application that will guarantee admissions committees give your application a close look!

The logic goes: they have 20K, 30K, 50K applications to read, and they can only accept 2-3K students (at the Ivy Leagues, anyway). So how do they prioritize their time? Well, some of the more advanced adcoms have computer technology to filter and eliminate based on certain metrics like class rank, GPA, SAT score, etc. But most of them do a fast manual read to figure out which applications are definite yes’s, maybes, and definite no’s. In this manual read, they are often looking for what we call BOOSTS: things like a perfect score on the SAT math subject test, or a referral from an affiliated professor or faculty member.

Today’s boost #3, which should be somewhat obvious, is if you’re an award winner in a recognized national competition. Something like Boy’s State/Boy’s Nation, or the Google and Intel Science and Engineering Fairs (here’s a list of prestigious science competitions). This dovetails with our concept of spikes – basically, the idea that you need to be very good at a specific identifiable skill, instead of being “ok” at everything.

And winning or placing highly at a national competition is evidence of that spike, which is why it receives such preferential treatment from application readers. Even writing and essay competitions count, although here the bigger story you need to tell is why writing interests you, and how it relates to what you want to do on campus (eg, study creative writing, or publish a book).

Here was the previous essay on boosts. Good luck!

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Here was part 1 in case you missed it.

Now that you have your ideal recommenders identified, it’s time to put together your materials!

What materials will you need?

  • an updated resume/curriculum vitae listing all of the classes you’ve taken, your grades, your extracurriculars, your work experience, your internships, your hobbies, and even a few bullets about your relationship with the teacher
  • a brief letter that explains “the ask”: what you’d like from them, why you chose them, and what you hope they can talk about in the letter (this last part is key)
  • all of the instructions, written as simply and clearly as possible, about how to submit the letter, what the requirements are if any, and the necessary materials (for example, if for some reason they need to mail it, do not forget to include an addressed, stamped envelope!)
  • don’t forget dates! make these dates abundantly clear; ideally you give them a month or more to write the letter, but usually teachers are busy people and they won’t be able to get around to it until the last few weeks anyway, but be sure to send friendly reminders!

Next, setup a time to talk with them! Ideally, this should be at least 15 minutes if not longer, a walk around the school, or a free period, or time before or after school.

This is where parents can come in handy. If you’re too nervous to ask your teachers, or if you don’t know how to ask for their time and what way to do it, get your parents to help. Your parents can easily email the teacher, or come meet with them after class together with you, and be able to have this conversation together, as a team!

What do you talk about in this 15 or 30 minute meeting?

  • why you chose them
  • what you hope they’ll write about
  • what concerns they have, if any
  • which schools you’re applying to, and why
  • any specific stories or accomplishments you had in their class/group (remind them because they might forget, or forget the details)

Finally, now that you’ve given them all of the materials, and you’ve spoken with them face to face, let them do their thing. And when it’s all over and done, do NOT forget to give them a gift! Something small and simple is more than enough – a Starbucks card, or a handwritten card with some dessert or chocolates depending on what they like. Make them feel appreciated, because they’re very busy people, and they play an important role in getting you into your dream school.

Good luck!

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