With standardized testing a smaller factor in the admissions process, we find ourselves talking to more and more families on the importance of letters of recommendation in the admissions process. In general, we believe letters of recommendation represent a missed opportunity for many applicants and a part of the application process worthy of more attention.
The fist point to make is the increasingly important role letters of recommendation play in many college's application processes. They are seen as a tool for college admissions departments to gain a better picture of the applicant, their personality, and how they might fit in at a specific school. Douglas Christianson of Vanderbilt has a particularly good video on the subject that we would recommend students, parents, and letter writers take the time to watch:
The second point to make is that in the holistic admissions process, "softer" metrics like character and personality matter more, and letters of recommendation are one of the more effective ways of highlighting those attributes. It is also important to understand that due to technology, valued personality traits are increasingly school specific and represent an opportunity for applicants to demonstrate their fit at specific colleges. With more colleges valuing very specific non-cognitive variables, our understanding of which metrics specific schools care about by understanding whose work their model is based on (Sedlacek, Harvard and Duckworth to name a few) as well as large data scrapes of university sites can help students learn what should be stressed in their letters.
The final point to stress is that when students are willing to more thoroughly examine university websites, they often find that many schools accept more letters than the standard one counselor, one teacher format which opens the door for multiple letters that can highlight the applicants details in a more thorough and compelling fashion.