How can planning increase a student's chance of getting great teacher recommendations?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How can planning increase a student's chance of getting great teacher recommendations?

Nina Berler
Founder unCommon Apps

How can planning increase a student's chance of getting great teacher recommendations?

Getting great teacher recommendations is hugely important . . . and getting them is in your hands as a responsible and enthusiastic student. Professors are impressed with students who are on top of their assignments and curious about the material presented in class. When a professor schedules a paper, map out a proposal or draft for how you'd address the topic and see him or her after class or during office hours. Chances are that your professor will be only too happy to help. With the professor's comments as a guide, there won't be any surprises (except a good grade) when you get the paper back. If you have some unique insight or perspective on a topic, see the professor. Perhaps you will eventually gain a role as a member of a research team sponsored by the particular professor. The great recommendation should be an outgrowth of that involvement and attitude.

William Chichester

How can planning increase a student's chance of getting great teacher recommendations?

Give teachers at least six-12 months of time to get this turned around because most teachers will have all of their students reaching out to them. Good students that get good recommendations are mindful of the teacher's/recommender's schedule. Giving a recommender tight turnaround times can diminish quality.

Suzan Reznick
Independent Educational Consultant The College Connection

Ask early and politely

Teachers are not required to write you letters of recommendation, so do understand that they would be doing you a favor. The most popular teachers can get overwhelmed with requests, and begin to say no. So, the best plan is to confirm with your teachers that they would be willing to write you a letter by the end of junior year. In general, English teachers and History teachers are often the best writers, You might want to hand them a copy of your resume, to help them have some context for their letter. And a short Thank-you note would be much appreciated by them.

Lisa Hatch
Independent College Counselor College Primers

Planning Ahead - (And Asking Early!) Can Give You an Edge

Asking your favorite teachers for college admissions recommendations may not head the top of your back-to-school “to do” list, but perhaps you’re not giving this task enough respect. Admissions officials want to hear from people they trust (your high school teachers) about why they should choose YOU as opposed to the thousands of other applicants they’ve heard from. And if you wait until October to ask your teachers to help you out, they may not have time to give college a comprehensive look at your overall greatness. To keep your admissions portfolio from presenting the same old boilerplate recommendation letters that college admissions officials have seen a dozen times before (yes – they notice things like that!), seek out your teachers before they become inundated with requests from four hundred of your peers. Hitting teachers up for recommendations early on in the school year not only gives them ample time to create a personalized, thoughtful letter but also improves their opinion of you for not adding to the mass of requests they’ll receive simultaneously in November as a result of your less-prepared classmates’ procrastination.

Helen H. Choi
Owner Admissions Mavens

How can planning increase a student's chance of getting great teacher recommendations?

The best way to plan ahead with regards to letters of recommendation is to be an active and engaged student in class. Pay attention, ask thoughtful questions, and be a considerate student and classmate to your teacher and peers. If you are particularly interested in a specific topic -- ask your teacher for further resources. You don't need to "kiss up" to the teacher or pretend to have an intellectual interest. However, if you are genuinely interested in something -- try to pursue it -- regardless of any "extra credit" involved. Being an active participant in your learning process (rather than being a whiny grade grubber) is a great way to show your maturity and character in the classroom. By doing this, you will not only learn for enjoyment -- but you might also receive a great teacher evaluation!

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

Avoid waiting for the last minute...

If you are proactive, you can create a recommendation request letter to give to your selected teachers. For each, you could include a particular event or project or accomplishment that you want the teacher to remember and that might remind the teacher of some of your interesting or exceptional qualities that she could comment on in the letter.

Nancy Milne
Owner Milne Collegiate Consulting

Teacher recommendations

It's always the same teachers who get asked for recs. Do your teacher a favor and give them plenty of lead time. I love my clients to request recs before summer vacation of senior year. This gives the teacher plenty of time and avoids the typical crunch time in the fall. Offer to sit down with the teacher and talk about your future, interests outside their classroom, etc. Or, create a brief resume since often the teacher only knows you from that class viewpoint. You are flattering a teacher by letting them know you valued the education you received from them. Teachers teach because they enjoy watching their students learn and mature. They are on your team, don't be shy about approaching them.

Helen Cella

How can planning increase a student's chance of getting great teacher recommendations?

Planning can help, it's important to keep in mind that not only does the teacher need to say nice things about the student, but they need to say it well.

Dr. Bruce Neimeyer
CEO/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

An informed recommendation is the best recommendation.

Planning in itself can’t increase the chances of getting a great teacher recommendation. Your performance in their class and how they observe you using your new found knowledge outside of the context in which it was gained in their class are the things that typically lead to a great recommendation. But there are steps that you can take that will ensure that when the teacher most capable of doing this task for you accepts your invitation to do this, they are equipped to do it efficiently and effectively. First, you should identify the teacher based on the academic area to which you will apply. For example, your accounting teacher is probably more appropriate than your music theory teacher to write a recommendation for you if you are applying to major in accounting. Second, when you ask the teacher, be prepared with a great “one minute elevator” speech. In other words, you have one minute to ask the teacher to write the recommendation but it must also be convincing and genuine. When you ask, it is important to explain why you have chosen them and what you would hope they would discuss in the recommendation. This helps to frame in their mind the context of the recommendation and their ability to achieve your request without putting too much burden on their workload. Remember, good and popular teachers tend to be asked a lot and at some point they have to start saying no. If you currently have them for a class it makes asking all the easier because they are currently familiar with your work. Third, be prepared to give the teacher a copy of the curriculum for your major from the school to which you will apply as well as any instructions for them to follow in preparing the letter. Some schools are seeking very specific information from teachers about their future students. Fourth, make a list of the attributes or accomplishments that you have achieved in high school and especially bring their attention to the ones which they have specific knowledge about your abilities. Fifth, it is always a good idea to give them an example of your work and especially well done assignments that you had completed for them. This will help to remind them about the quality of your work and other attributes that they have associated with you since they have gotten to know you. Sixth, provide them with a copy of your future career and intended major goals. They need to better understand where you see yourself going and how this school may be the right place to help you accomplish those goals. Next, remember to provide them with a stamped and addressed envelope if it is to be mailed to your school. Most importantly, remember to thank them for completing the letter and follow up with them about the final outcome of your applications. I am sure they would like to know how the end of your application story turns out.

Rana Slosberg
Owner Slosberg College Solutions LLC

Plan ahead

If you plan ahead, you can give recommendation letter writers adequate time and information (e.g., why you selected them, highlights of your experience with them, a resume, a transcript, colleges you are applying to, due dates for recommendation letters, and hard copy forms with stamped addressed envelopes, if needed) to complete a great, on-time the teacher recommendation.