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?

Dawn Smith

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

Choose teachers who know you well and like you! Pick teachers who have taught you either junior or senior years.  English teachers tend to write well, so they are usually a good bet.  An academic teacher who has also known you outside the classroom (through clubs or sports teams) is generally an excellent choice.  Ask a teacher who respects you and can testify to some of your intangible qualities, i.e. intellectual curiosity, academic passion.  The best teacher to ask is not necessarily the one who gave you the highest grade. Sometimes, picking a teacher in a class where you have struggled and persevered, might be an excellent option.

Robin Smith

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

Definitely ask your teachers if they can accommodate you as soon as possible. Do not delay! If they are already overwhelmed with requests for recommendations from other students, they may turn you down.

Plus, carefully prepare, in advance, a packet of all materials that they will need to write a detailed and complete evaluation. You should include a resume that provides detailed information about your activities, jobs, and academic achievements, evaluation forms on which you completed the waiver and basic information sections in advance, addressed and stamped mailing envelopes (plus a little note on the bottom-left corner of the envelope that displays the application deadlines (unless your school will be submitting all their forms online), plus a thank-you note, considering the time and extra effort that you are asking them to make on your behalf.

After a few weeks time, come up with a tactful way to ask your teacher if they have finished your evaluations in time for the deadline!

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.

Brian D. Crisp
Founder and President Crisp Consulting + Coaching; Burton College Tours

Prime Time

With lives of teachers and students becoming increasingly busy, it is critical to plan. Failure to plan could jeopardize a needed letter of recommendation. To avoid any surprises, create a calendar noting when your letters of recommendation are due, typically two to three weeks before the application deadlines. Teachers have busy lives and the fall semester often brings extra responsibilities, therefore ask teachers early and include your deadline in your requests. If the teachers are not using an electronic format, providing an envelope addressed to the admission office will assist in expediting the process.

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.

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.

Corey Fischer
President CollegeClarity

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

Generally, it is the junior year teachers that a student will ask to write the letters of recommendation. It is a good idea to have one letter that is from a math or science teacher and one letter that is from an English, or history, or language teacher. You do not want to be a "grade grubber," but it is important to show that you care about learning (not just the grade), ask good questions, be a positive, productive member of the class. Get your work done well and on time, be pleasant, have a sense of humor. All these attributes can lead to positive letters.

Erica White
College & Career Counselor Middletown High School

Popular teachers

We all can name the top 10 popular teachers in high school. Those teachers are the most likely to get asked to write recommendations. Therefore, if you do not ask in advance you will be put on a waiting list with everyone else who asked. Teachers typically write recommendations in the order in which they are asked. You may also lose out an oppurtunity to get a great recommendation, if the teacher only writes a certain amount of recommendations per year. By planning ahead you also give the teacher plenty of time to write the best recommendation possible. If you rush the teacher to write a recommendation it is not going to be as good as it could have been. I always suggest you ask in May of your junior year to give the teacher plenty of time to write a great recommendation.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Teacher Recommendations Reflect Your Approach to Learning

The kind of planning that enhances recommendations is the same kind that enhances a student’s overall academic profile. Anything that will help you perform at a high level and do it in a way that demonstrates more than a concern about high grades should be a part of your effort. The best recommendations attest to a student’s love of learning and of the positive impact they have on the classroom atmosphere and the learning experience of all. Students should establish relationships with teachers so that they can get to know you and can see this. That approach is also likely to lead to better grades. If you start off from day one in that way you are not only going to be able to have your pick of strong recommendations but the strong grades that will complement them.