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7 Tips for a Strong IB Letter of Recommendation

Rachelle Bernadel is the IB’s University Relations Administrator at the IB Global Centre in Bethesda, MD, USA. She is also an IB graduate of Parkdale High School in Riverdale, Maryland.

For those who follow our Facebook group “IB Counselors, Coordinators and University Relations,” this post is a follow up to one of my questions from “Tuesday Talks: What makes a good IB letter of recommendation?” (If you have not joined our group already, you can find it here). As counselors gear up to prepare their students to submit college applications, the recommendation letter has and will remain a pivotal component of the package. According to the 2011 State of College Admissions Report by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), nearly two-thirds of colleges and universities attribute considerable or moderate importance to counselor and teacher recommendations in determining which academically qualified students they would choose for admission. With so much weight riding on the counselor recommendation component of an application submission, it can be stressful to know exactly what to write.  Over the past few months since this blog’s inception, I have had the pleasure to engage with many very experienced and knowledgeable IB counselors. One thing I paricularly admire about this IB community is their ability to exemplify life-long learning by sharing best practices among each other. This week, Pamela Joos, one of the IB’s College and University Relations Committee (CURC) members, worked with me to put together tips for letters of recommendation. Pamela is the university counselor at the Washington International School (WIS) in Washington D.C. Here are our insights!


Top things to cover in an IB recommendation:

1.Extended Essay- emphasize the independence of it and why the students choose their topic (especially if it relates to a prospective major). On occasion the IB has asked for advanced statistical processes in some subjects and students have had to be agents in their own learning; seeking out additional knowledge not taught in course material.

2.Language fluency- if your student is pursuing the Bilingual Diploma, speak about novels they have read in other languages.

3.Highlight your school’s IB program- provide information on how many students are in the diploma course versus regular high school curriculum. Give information about the process to get into IB at your school (the interview, an essay etc) and how the student excelled.

4.International focus of the curriculum – explain how has the student embraced an interest in the larger world through volunteer, service or outreach. Briefly discuss their CAS project and how the student will be a contributing member to civic engagement on campus.

5.Reflect on student surveys- develop student surveys that ask questions about their favorite IB project (IA, TOK paper, EE, etc) and what they have enjoyed the most about the IB. This can lead to really good information for the letter if the student is thoughtful in their reflections.

6.Theory of Knowledge- include aspects of the student’s theory of knowledge paper and how they demonstrated critical thinking across disciplines. Oftentimes universities do not see the student’s body of work (EE, TOK, CAS portfolio,-unless requested) outside of just the final score, so this is an excellent opportunity to showcase their work.

7.Learner Profile- throughout the recommendation, the learner profile should be used to reinforce that the student possesses qualities that will make them desirable once at university.

Do you have any tips to share? Please comment below to continue the discussion.


 Learner profile

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2 Responses to 7 Tips for a Strong IB Letter of Recommendation

  1. Tu Anh Gilmore November 24, 2014 at 01:42 #

    Thank you for sharing and highlighting these important aspects of how the DP uniquely influences a student’s development and growth. I particularly appreciate and would highlight that reading both the TOK and EE would share personal insights of each student’s aspirations to add further ‘gems’ to the counselor rec. CAS hours are another avenue that demonstrate personal passions beyond academics. IB is such a wonderful programme that naturally lends itself to writing strong recs to advocate each learner personally and successfully.

  2. Jerilea January 16, 2015 at 00:56 #

    This is hugely helpful and I wish I had seen this long ago! I plan to use these tips moving forward as they are all so true and relevant.

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