Not only is Dartmouth a very competitive school to get into, it also has an unusual requirement on its application: a letter of recommendation from a peer. This Dartmouth peer recommendation is in addition to two letters from teachers and one from a school counselor.
This guide dives a little deeper into what Dartmouth is looking for in a peer recommendation, and how you can get a great one that will impress admissions officers. First, how does Dartmouth describe this special reference letter?
Dartmouth's Guidelines for Peer Recommendations
Dartmouth "strongly encourages" applicants to send a peer recommendation, which, when applying to such a selective school, should read as "requires." Once you have your recommender, you'll invite her to submit her letter as the "Other Recommender" on the Common Application.
When most students come across this requirement, they think, "Dartmouth already has three other reference letters about me. Why does it want another one?" Good question. What exactly is Dartmouth looking for in this peer rec?
According to Dartmouth, it wants to get a fresh perspective on you: "We don't want another letter from a teacher, coach, or other supervisory presence in your life; we have enough of those. Ask a peer who can provide fresh insight into your interests and your character." In terms of who qualifies as a peer, Dartmouth says it can be "a friend from school, or camp, or your neighborhood. It might be a teammate, someone from your community of faith, or a co-worker. Perhaps a cousin, a sibling: it doesn't matter."
What does matter about who you ask is that this person knows you well and is qualified, by virtue of her relationship with you, to speak to your character and provide an honest and heartfelt recommendation. As Dartmouth says, "Just be sure that the person who writes your Peer Rec can express your strengths and the qualities that you have to share" and "is able to provide us with context about who you are, and what you could bring to our college community."
Dartmouth is flexible about whether you ask a friend or relative, and they want someone who presents your strengths and a vision of what you'll contribute to college. Besides what Dartmouth has to say about the peer recommendation, is there anything else that makes it different from a teacher or counselor rec?
How Is the Dartmouth Peer Recommendation Unique?
Dartmouth is a highly selective and academically rigorous college. In its upcoming Class of 2019, 95% of the class were in the top 10% of their high school classes, and over 38% were valedictorians. That's why a lot of peer recommenders think that they need to rave about their friend's intelligence and academic feats.
But that approach might be a mistake.
Your teacher recommendations, along with the rest of your application, can speak to your love of learning and commitment to education. Your peer recommender, though, is a great person to talk about your character and personality, as well as to give admissions officers a sense of how you'll interact socially when you arrive to campus.
Of course, your recommenders can speak to your boundless curiosity or commitment to a certain area, but they shouldn't feel confined to talking about academic ability. They don't have to emulate a teacher or counselor recommendation. Instead, they can be less formal and more personal. They can show the Dartmouth admissions committee that not only do you have the academic credentials to make it there, but you're also a caring, loyal, funny, or energetic friend.
Given that the peer recommendation can focus on your awesome personal qualities and strength of character, who should you ask for this unique reference letter?
Someone overwhelmed with schoolwork and college applications might not have time to write you a great letter.
Who Should You Ask for a Peer Recommendation?
The most important factor in choosing someone to write your peer recommendation is the strength of your relationship with that person. You should choose someone who knows you well and can write insightfully about your personality and goals. The best letters include anecdotes and examples of times that you demonstrated your strengths.
Rather than just speaking about what a selfless friend you are, for example, your recommender could describe how you helped her memorize her lines for the school play every day for two weeks. Stories will both make the letter more memorable and paint a more colorful picture of who you are and what values motivate your actions.
When choosing your recommender, you also want to be confident that this person admires you and will provide an outstanding, positive recommendation. If there's any potential conflict of interest - for instance, if your friend also has her heart set on getting accepted to Dartmouth - then you might want to reconsider your choice. You should feel confident that your peer recomender genuinely wants to help you get accepted and is motivated to put in the time and effort to write you an exceptional letter.
Apart from choosing a close friend who knows you well and can share meaningful stories with the Dartmouth admissions committee, you should consider your friend's writing skills. Is she able to express her ideas clearly and effectively? Can she communicate a powerful endorsement that will stick out to admissions committees? Will she put in the effort to choose her words carefully and not fall into cliches?
The best letters take time and effort to craft and often go through several revisions. You want to make sure your friend is able to spend time on your letter to make it the best it can be. It could also be a good idea to share guides, like this one, with your friend about peer recommendations and suggestions on what to include to make the letter stand out.
Besides being thoughtful about who you choose as your recommender, what else can you do to get a great peer recommendation for your Dartmouth application?
Tell your peer recommender everything she needs to know!
Communicate With Your Recommender
After asking your friend to write you a peer letter of recommendation, the conversation shouldn't end there! To help your recommender write you a great letter customized to Dartmouth, you should share lots of important information with her.
First, make sure she understands the purpose of the peer recommendation, like how she should highlight your primary strengths and personal qualities. Share with her the importance of using examples, along with explaining how she knows you and what she sees you bringing to the Dartmouth campus.
Since Dartmouth is such a competitive school, you may be emphasizing a particular interest in your application or plan for future study. Your friend's recommendation can corroborate the story you're telling about yourself, as well as add to it.
If you're focusing on your love of literature, for instance, then your friend could talk about the weekly book club you run or the touching poem you wrote her for her birthday. Her recommendation can complement your story and add a personal and memorable touch.
She can also make sure she's not repeating too much that's already present in your application, but instead is adding the "fresh perspective" that Dartmouth's looking for. Along similar lines, you should share information about Dartmouth, if needed, so she knows more about the college you're applying to.
You can tell your friend all about why you want to go there and what your goals are. Let her know how important the peer recommendation is for helping admissions officers get to know a side of you that your teachers and counselors might not show. Emphasize that peer recs don't have to focus on academic ability, but instead can shed light on personality and social skills.
Recommendation letters for college are generally kept confidential, so it's your friend's decision if she wants to share the letter with you for revision or feedback. Even if she doesn't, you can share your ideas with her and help brainstorm. That way you can contribute to what ultimately goes into the letter. Be proactive about sharing resources and information with your peer recommender, and reap the benefits with an outstanding letter.
While a mediocre peer recommendation probably won't sink your application, a strong one could do a lot to paint you as a successful future Dartmouth student. Be thoughtful about who you choose, and make sure to give her enough time and information to do a thorough and effective job. While your peer recommender may want to keep her letter private, you can be confident that the person you asked supports you, knows you deeply, and has the skills and desire to write a great letter.
Make sure your friend knows your deadlines (November 1st for early decision and January 1st for regular decision), and how to submit her letter to the Common App. Then all that's left for you to do is send her a big thank you for helping you get into this exciting school!
Are you thinking about who to ask for your teacher recommendations? Read more about who to ask for a strong letter of recommendation and exactly how to frame your request.
If you're applying to a school like Dartmouth, you want to put the same careful planning into the rest of your application as you do your peer recommendation. For help in this, check out our guide on how to build a versatile college application.
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.