As you prepare the different components of your college application, you might notice that some schools include something known as a “peer recommendation” on their list of required or recommended materials. You’re probably familiar with teacher recommendation letters and may be surprised to find schools asking for one from a peer!
A peer recommendation is exactly what it sounds like—it’s a letter from someone who knows you in a more friendly, casual context than a teacher or supervisor. Your recommender could be your best friend or your lab partner.
Davidson College and Dartmouth College are two schools that ask for peer recommendations. While Davidson requires the peer recommendation, Dartmouth strongly recommends it. If a school recommends something, it matters to them. You should make the effort to submit the letter in order to make your application as complete as possible. Plus, the letter can provide more context on who you are as a classmate, friend, or teammate. This will allow admissions officers to determine how you would fit in with their community and student body.
To add a peer recommendation letter for Dartmouth, you have to add your recommender through the Common App, where the writer can directly upload the letter. They’ll also have the option to upload the recommendation on your behalf via the Dartmouth application portal, which becomes available to you after you submit the Common App—it’s okay to submit the peer recommendation after the submission date. Dartmouth recommends that you submit your peer recommendation within ten days of the application deadline.
Dartmouth College mentions that the peer recommendation should come from someone who does not oversee the candidate in a supervisory role. They say:
“A peer recommendation is a written statement of support for the applicant’s candidacy, completed by anyone the applicant considers a peer. It should not be someone who is in a supervisory or oversight role in the applicant’s life. A few examples are a classmate or teammate; brother, sister, or cousin; a co-worker; a friend met at summer school or summer camp; lab or debate partner.”
Davidson specifies that the recommendation should come from a classmate, teammate, coworker, or a close friend. Their instructions state:
“This recommendation can provide helpful context in understanding the applicant in a community of their peers. You, as a close friend, coworker, teammate, or classmate, etc. know the applicant in a different way than do teachers, counselors, principals, and advisors. Your insights will help us to understand the nature and extent of the respect accorded to the applicant by peers. Since Davidson can select only a small number of the total applicant pool to fill each year’s entering class, your assessment of this applicant’s strengths and weaknesses will be important in our decision.”
For Davidson’s peer recommendation, your recommender should fill out the questionnaire on the website itself. Davidson asks questions such as “How long and how well have you known the applicant?” and “What do you see as the applicant’s strengths? Please give examples when possible.” Your peer can also rate your abilities in leadership, initiative, self-confidence, and other qualities on a scale of “Below Average” to “Excellent” to help admissions officers understand your strengths in different areas.
So, who should write your peer letter of recommendation?
You should choose someone who knows you well, and likes you. Just like any other recommendation, the best peer recommendation letters offer concrete examples and details of what you’re like, from the classroom to the locker room. You want someone you’re certain will write about your positive traits with clarity and specificity and go beyond just generic statements. Ask yourself which of your friends or teammates you’ve had experiences with where they’ve seen you shine as your best self.
On that note, you should also choose someone who is a strong writer. Choose someone who will write a clear and professional letter that can illustrate their praise with specific anecdotes and can reflect on your time together in a mature way. Don’t be afraid to ask your recommender to make sure someone else has proofread their letter.
Make sure you choose someone who truly supports you and your efforts. If your recommender is going to mention any weaknesses you might have, you want to make sure they will highlight how you’ve overcome them or continue to grow from them. This will be especially important if you’re applying to Davidson because one of their prompts for recommenders is, “What do you consider to be the applicant’s weaknesses? Again, it would be helpful to give specific examples by referring to activities or projects in which a weakness has emerged.”
Students might be tempted to choose someone who sounds impressive or attends the college they’re applying to—but if this person doesn’t know you well, they can’t provide a letter that accurately represents the best things about you. Ask yourself if the person actually knows you personally and can speak to your character. Schools that ask for peer recommendations have seen a lot of them, and they’ll be able to tell right away if the writer only knows you at a surface level. (However, if your best friend or sibling does attend the college and can provide an honest and detailed description of how you’d fit into the school, that can further help admissions officers envision you on campus.)
A peer recommendation provides a fun and different opportunity to let colleges get to know you and recognize the qualities your friends or teammates appreciate about you. Have fun with it, and don’t let it stress you out. This is an opportunity to connect with a peer in a new way—however, refrain from asking your peer to show you the letter. Choose someone you trust will highlight your best qualities—you don’t usually see teacher recommendations, so treat this letter the same.