Recommendations & References

Do I Need a Recommendation?
Many U.S. institutions to which HIS students apply ask for two teacher recommendations. Universities in the UK on the UCAS system will ask for one reference letter that addresses your suitability for your field of interest. Some universities in Hong Kong and Korea may also ask for recommendation letters. Always check the admission requirements at each institution's webpage.

Teacher Recommendations
Teacher recommendation letters focus on academics; teachers address what they have seen in class and in your coursework. Your college counselor can help you select teachers who know you, respect you, and will write positive comments about you.

Who Should I Ask?
Be thoughtful about who you ask. You should ask someone who can talk about your work ethic, interaction with other students and your suitability for higher education or a future career. Often, the best choice are teachers who taught you in Grade 11, because they have taught you recently and can speak about who you are as a student. Consider asking a core subject teacher or a teacher in the discipline you plan to pursue in college.

You don't have to ask a teacher whose class you earned an "A." In fact, if you received a lower grade in a particular course, you may want to have this explained by the recommender. That teacher may very well be able to address your determination, perseverance, willingness to take risks and personal responsibility – all qualities that universities are looking for in an applicant.

How Do I Ask?
You should plan on asking your teachers for a letter of recommendation in spring of Grade 11 to give them plenty of advance notice. Always ask the teacher in person, never in passing or via email, to write your recommendation. Numerous students ask teachers for recommendations and many teachers limit the number they agree to write. By doing so, they do not over commit themselves. They want to give your recommendation the same effort and consideration as others. Watch your teacher's reaction carefully - if they respond enthusiastically, then great! Continue with the rest of the advice below. If your teacher seems hesitant, then consider asking someone else.

After your teacher has agreed to write for you, request a recommendation within Cialfo:
  • Navigate to Recommendations, and then clicking the "Request LOR" button in the horizontal menu bar. 
  • Add your recommenders by clicking "Add Recommenders" and then selecting your teachers' names one at a time.
  • Enter your answers to the Survey questions (click "Show Questions" to view). You can either type in the box, upload a file, or link to a Google Doc. You may first request a recommendation from a teacher and then complete the survey questions at a later date.
  • Finally, click the "Send Request" button.
Answering the survey questions helps a teacher to recall specifics about you, so please fill it out thoughtfully. The survey questions are:
  1. Why did you choose this teacher to recommend you?
  2. What is the earliest application deadline for a college that needs my letter? (Include institution and date)
  3. If you are applying to particular departments, scholarships, or other special programs, makes sure to clarify that information.
Give your teacher the information needed to provide specific examples of your performance in class. The following prompts may be helpful:
  1. List all your courses that were taught by your teacher; and please record the semester grades that you earned in each course.
  2. Do you believe your academic record (transcript information and test scores) provide an accurate representation of you as a student? Why or why not?
  3. How do/did you contribute to the learning and community in this teacher's classroom? What is/was your role in the class?
  4. What specific work or projects from this teacher’s class are you proud of?
  5. What did you learn in class taught by this teacher? Was anything in your teacher’s class(es) challenging or eye-opening?
  6. How have you demonstrated independence, initiative, responsibility, and maturity in your teacher’s class(es)?
At the end of the application process, write a thank you note to all the teachers who wrote recommendations for you. Writing a good letter is hard work—send a thank you note or do something to let them know how much you appreciated their efforts.

How Letters Are Sent
Your teacher will write one letter of recommendation that will be used for each of your applications. Teachers are responsible for submitting their recommendations for the list of schools on Cialfo. Make sure you follow-up with your teachers throughout the process and before your application deadlines.

Students applying to universities that use the Common Application and other electronic applications will have their teacher recommendations sent electronically to the requested universities via Cialfo. if you have a UCAS application, add the UCAS Centre buzzword for HIS when creating your account so that your college counselor can submit your reference letter.

Students applying to institutions that use their own individual form will need to provide the completed form(s). The Secondary Office will send your recommendations, along with other required documents, to the universities via courier. Students are responsible for the courier fees. 

Counselor Recommendations

How Does This Differ From the Teacher Recommendation?
Many U.S. colleges will also require a letter from your college counselor. This is the letter that will provide information about your academic performance, extracurricular activities, and your character and values.

For the Counselor Recommendation, please answer the following questions:
  1. Do your grades accurately reflect your academic potential? If not, explain why.
  2. What has been the most satisfying course you have taken at school? Why?
  3. What, if anything, would you do differently if you had to experience high school again? If nothing, how have you made the most of your HIS experience?
  4. Describe an incident in which you demonstrated strong character (wisdom, curiosity, courage, persistence, honesty, humanity, gratitude, justice, forgiveness, etc.). Think outside the box – not cheating is not the only answer! 
  5. What are some of your unique strengths and qualities? Please provide specific examples to illustrate your point.
  6. List any significant academic or extracurricular accomplishments. Explain what is most important to you on this list.
  7. What motivates and/or excites you, and why?
  8. Are there any unusual family or community circumstances that you want to share?
Take care in answering the questions for the Counselor Recommendation. The more information you provide, the easier it is for your counselor to write a thoughtful and thorough recommendation.

Disciplinary Reporting
Some colleges will ask whether you have been suspended from or asked to leave a school. If you are asked this question, it is your responsibility to answer it honestly; you should also write an explanation of what happened and what you learned from the experience. Likewise, if your HIS college counselor is asked about suspensions or expulsions, they will answer the question honestly and will try to provide context for the circumstances. Also, please note that many schools require HIS to report disciplinary infractions to the colleges if they occur after you have applied. Your college counselor is available to have conversations should you have any concerns about your disciplinary record.