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Maddi Lee

The Ins and Outs of Teacher Recommendations

Teacher recommendations can be a tricky lot. There are tons of different staff members you can get one from and tons of different formats preferred by different colleges. In this post, we’ll try to cover the basics, so you won’t have to fall into a fathomless pit of endless confusion which threatens to devour the entirety of your functioning mind. You know. We’ve all been there before.

 

Research!

Why are recommendations so important? Colleges want these letters because they show parts of yourself that your grades and standardized test scores can’t. They show your character, work ethic, and relationship with staff. A well-written letter of rec can boost your application considerably, especially if it truly highlights your strongest talents, best personality traits, and even some of your weaknesses.

Depending on the colleges you’re applying to, there are different numbers of evaluations required. This can include:

  • One teacher evaluation and one counselor recommendation.
  • Two teacher recommendations and a counselor recommendation.
  • Two teacher recommendations (core subjects from 10th, 11th, or 12 grade), counselor recommendation, and optional additional evaluation

Before you leap into this process, make sure you know what types of recommendations your schools are looking for! Make a list of all the schools you’re applying to and what kinds of recommendations each one needs.

 

Who do I ask?

Who should you ask? The options are endless, but not all those options are, well, good options. For teacher recommendations, it’s a good idea to:

1)    It isn’t always wisest to pick the teacher whose class you got the best grade in, though that doesn’t hurt. Pick a teacher who is familiar with you—not just on an academic level—but on a personal one, as well. Have you formed any friendships with your teachers? Teachers who also know you outside the classroom—like a Mock Trial coach or Student Council director—are great choices.

2)    Try picking teachers who you’ve had recently. Asking a teacher you had in 9th grade might be counter-productive. People change a lot in three years!  11th grade teachers are usually the best picks because they had you fairly recentl and for an entire year, unlike 12th grade teachers.

3)    If you’re looking into a specific field or applying to a specific school within your college or university, try asking for a recommendation from a teacher who teaches in this field! For example, if you’re applying as an engineering major to the school of engineering, it might be a good idea to get a letter of rec from you math teacher.

4)    If you’re only allowed one teacher recommendation, go for a teacher who teaches a core subject, like math, English, science, and history. Class rigor is often a key aspect of teacher recommendations. How you do in your Art I class won’t really reflect your success in a college-level class.

5)    Try avoiding asking family members or friends for optional recommendations.

 

When do I ask?

You should be asking for your recommendation well in advance of the deadline. Leave at least a month of space for your teacher to write your recommendation—he or she is probably inundated with requests from other students, too! Especially if you’re applying early somewhere, make sure to ask by the start of senior year—or even earlier!

How do I ask?

Don’t be nervous! Teachers do this every year, so as long as you give them plenty of time to write your letter and ask respectfully, they shouldn’t have any problem with it. Unless they’re just really grumpy.  Make sure they get everything they need. Some things you should give them include:

  • Your personal statement/other essays if they are complete
  • Your resume or brag sheet. This will help them know what you’re involved in out of school, so they can write a better letter of recommendation.
  • A brief explanation as to the kind of college you’re looking for and your academic goals, major, etc.
  • A list of the colleges you’re applying to with their addresses and application deadlines. Sometimes teachers have to mail in the letter themselves, while other times counselors or online systems do it. In any case, including addresses can be very convenient, and it doesn’t take much effort to write them down.
  • If your teachers do have to mail in the letters themselves, including stamped, address envelopes for each of your colleges can be a kind gesture.
  • Any recommendation forms needed
  • Afterwards, remember to write a thank you note! These things are hard to write—especially when you have dozens of students asking for letters. After your applications are sent in, send a thoughtful note to all the teachers which wrote you a recommendation. Make sure to share the news with them if you get in, too! They’ll be delighted.
  • Ask your teachers for recommendations in person.
  • Getting a recommendation from a famous or notable person will not help unless that person knows you very well.
  • Follow up with your teachers a week before the college deadlines to make sure the letters have been sent out.
  • Make sure to waive your right to view recommendation letters on your application forms! If you do this, admission officers will trust the letters more. They’ll know that the teacher wasn’t pressured to write false statements because he or she knew you’d be reading them.
  • Good luck! As long as you remain respectful and responsible throughout the process, you’ll be just fine.

Miscellaneous tips

  • Ask your teachers for recommendations in person.
  • Getting a recommendation from a famous or notable person will not help unless that person knows you very well.
  • Follow up with your teachers a week before the college deadlines to make sure the letters have been sent out.
  • Make sure to waive your right to view recommendation letters on your application forms! If you do this, admission officers will trust the letters more. They’ll know that the teacher wasn’t pressured to write false statements because he or she knew you’d be reading them.
  • Good luck! As long as you remain respectful and responsible throughout the process, you’ll be just fine.

 

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About Maddi Lee

Maddi is currently a high school junior in southern California. She is an avid freelance writer and has been featured in multiple literary publications and anthologies. When she isn't writing, she loves traveling, doodling, and most of all, sleeping. Through her own experience and passion, she hopes to help guide fellow students through the roller coaster that is SAT and college admissions...that is, as long as she survives the journey herself!


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