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?

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.

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

5 Tips For Getting Great Letters of Recommendation

Select teachers who know you best You may have received an “A” in AP US History, but if you rarely interacted with the teacher, this may not be your best bet for a recommendation. Rather than focusing on the teacher who gave you your best grade, identify a teacher who took the time to know you personally. Ask for recommendations in person Don’t email or text your request. Visit the teacher or counselor during the school day and ask personally for a letter of recommendation. Be prepared to provide the recommender with important information about where to send the letter and the deadline. Plant the seed of your request early If you had a great year in AP US History, ask your teacher to write a letter of recommendation before you leave for summer vacation. You can solidify your request in the fall, but your teacher may use the summer break to work on these types of requests. Arm your recommender with information Let the teacher or counselor know everything you were involved in throughout your high school career. Make sure you include activities outside of school, including church activities, jobs, volunteer work – all of these help show who you are and help the recommender get a better sense of what to write. Also, tell your teacher and counselor about the colleges you are applying to. Share your reasons for selecting these schools, and let the recommender know your plans for college and the future. Say “Thank you!” Send a thank you note to each of your recommenders. A handwritten, personal note of thanks is courteous and demonstrates your good, professional manners.

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.

Karen Ekman-Baur
Director of College Counseling Leysin American School

How Planning Can Help with Getting Better Teacher Recommendations

I am taking "planning" to mean that you have your act together and are doing the things that need to be done when they need to be done. That would mean that you've done your research ahead of time and can ask for the teacher recommendations in plenty of time for the teachers involved to have an opportunity to formulate effective recommendations. This should not be an overnight rush job! Another aspect of the planning would be having a fully-developed, carefully-organized resume of your school involvement, extracurricular activities, volunteer activities, internships, work experience, and so on, which you can give to the teachers whom you have asked for recommendations. They may or may not choose to refer to any of the information on your resume within their recommendations, but it could be that some of the things mentioned on the resume tie in directly with the subject they teach or how they have perceived you as a student in their class.

Reena Gold Kamins
Founder College, Career & Life, LLC.

The more respectful you are of your teacher's time, the better the letter she'll write.

Dropping a recommendation form in a teacher's mailbox with a post-it note and the due date, doesn't show a lot of respect for her time. So, chances are that teacher won't put a lot of effort into the letter. I encourage students to schedule a meeting to ask for a recommendation letter. Take the time to show your teacher your list of schools (so they know how many they have to write) and explain to them why you're interested in each school. Talking to them about your list might reveal information that could help you. Perhaps your teacher attended one of the schools on your list. If she's familiar with the college's curriculum, her evaluation of your ability to succeed within it, is more meaningful. Similiarly, if she knows other students who've attended and done well at particular college and can discuss your abilities relative to that student, it is more meaningful. These conversations can't be had if you wait till the last minute. Ideally, you will give your teacher at least 4 weeks to write the letter. If you want to meet with her first, you need to allow five weeks.