Private School Admissions: Letters of Reference Do’s & Don’ts

Letters of reference from adults who know your child and your family well can be excellent insights for admissions directors. However, there are many factors to keep in mind when requesting letters of reference to insure that your well-placed intentions don’t end up doing more harm than good. Here’s a primer to keep on-hand.


  • Check whether the school(s) you’re applying to require letters of reference
  • Request letters of reference from a family at the school whom you know well
  • Keep in mind that a genuine good fit means more than a reference from a board member or big name
  • Request letters from someone who can speak specifically about your child’s strengths
  • Make sure references in the school community are in good standing and are well-liked
  • Request letters from a variety of sources (ie: coaches, tutors, music instructors)
  • Follow the instructions for submitting reference forms if your application calls for that


  • Feel pressured to submit letters of reference if the school doesn’t require them
  • Request letters of reference from a family at the school whom you know only through multiple degrees of separation
  • Ask your reference to put too much emphasis on your own accomplishments
  • Bombard the admissions office with multiple letters
  • Put too much stock in a letter from a celebrity or high-profile person who has nothing to do with the school
  • Submit reference letters from close family members like grandparents, aunts, and uncles
  • Buy into the misconception that extra reference letters give an applicant an advantage if the school only asks for one, or only asks for a reference form submission

Our contributing education experts:

14th Street Y Preschool, 14streety.org
AltSchool, altschool.com
BASIS Independent Manhattan, manhattan.basisindependent.com
The British International School of New York, bis-ny.org
The Calhoun School, calhoun.org
The Cathedral School of St. John the Divine, cathedralnyc.org
Dwight School, dwight.edu
Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, lemanmanhattan.org
Lycée Francais De New York, lfny.org
Metropolitan Montessori School, mmsny.org
Montclare Children’s School, montclareschool.org
Morningside Montessori School, morningsidemontessori.org
Polis World School, polis.school
Saint Albans School, saintalbansnyc.com
School Search NYC, schoolsearchnyc.com
Smart City Kids, smartcitykids.com
St. Ann, The Personal School, stannschoolnyc.org
Twin Parks Montessori Schools, twinparks.org
Wetherby-Pembridge, wetherby-pembridge.org