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?

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.

Wendy Andreen, PhD
College & Career Planning

Help Your Teachers Write the Best Recs

#1 suggestion - build a rapport with your teachers during your JUNIOR year while doing your best in class! In most cases, it will be a teacher from your core classes during junior year who will write your rec letters. I meet with juniors early in the school year and remind them how important it is to not only do their best work in every class but get to know their teachers. Colleges don't want teachers to regurgitate what can be found on a student's resume or activities section of the application. Colleges want to know things like the student has critical thinking skills in the subject, can handle rigorous course work, participates in class, offers insightful comments, demonstrates honesty and ethical behavior, is punctual and prepared for class, works well with classmates, as well as provides leadership characteristics. You may not be perfect in all of these categories but you can demonstrate your strengths in class daily. Your teacher will be able to write about those strengths with specific examples. #2 suggestion - at the end of your junior year (before you leave for the summer), if you know which teachers you would like to write your letters, make a personal visit to their classroom and ask them if they will write a letter on your behalf when you return to school in the fall (or end of summer). Tell them you will bring them all the information they need at that time. Once they agree, you will be a step ahead when you return to school as a senior. #3 suggestion - follow your high school's requirements for getting information to your teachers. If there is no process in place, provide a pocket folder for each teacher that includes a copy of your resume (as a courtesy - remember they are writing about your strengths in the classroom) which contains your full name and contact information, a page with your list of colleges, their deadline dates, any ID# the teacher needs for each school to include in the letter (such as birth date), stamped, addressed envelopes for each college or the email information for online recs. Include on the page any other helpful information (like your intended major) so your teacher can write the best possible letter for you.

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.

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.

Andrew Belasco
CEO College Transitions LLC

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

To ensure a great letter of recommendation, it is important that students establish a relationship with their teacher at the outset of class, seeking opportunities to discuss their academic progress/interests, acquire help with a particular assignment or ask "follow-up" questions related to a class topic or activity--all the while being respectful of the teacher's time and other personal and professional obligations. Many teachers value enthusiasm as much as talent. It is also important to note that the best letters of recommendation are not necessarily reserved for the highest-achieving students. Letters of recommendation attesting to a student's work-ethic and/or resilience can often prove more effective than a letter of recommendation describing a student's great performance. Therefore, as long as the student is exhibiting conscientiousness and significant effort, he/she should not be afraid to seek the support of a teacher in an enjoyable yet particularly challenging course.

Natalie Sanchez Campos
Owner Next Step LLC

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

I recommend you plan 4-6 weeks in advance and asking five different people for recommendations. Supply each individual with you academic resume and transcript so that they can make informed and accurate statements in the recommendation Ensure that each individual you ask to share a recommendation has enough time (typically 4-6 weeks) to complete the recommendation and to submit it appropriately.

Randi Heathman
Independent Educational Consultant The Equestrian College Advisor LLC

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

For great teacher recommendations, students need to engage in two types of planning: the first is planning AHEAD. The most popular teachers are normally bombarded with requests for letters from college-bound seniors on the first day of school each fall and, while they'll probably say yes to as many students as they can, when they're writing so many letters in such a short period of time, the quality of the writing and the specific information that they're able to recall and share (the very same information that will give admission officers a great picture of how students will fit into their university!) will be limited. The second type of planning is planning WHO will be asked. I always tell students to be aware of what, specifically, a teacher is most likely to say about them, e.g. that you had a remarkable breakthrough in their math class as a sophomore and it changed your outlook on the subject or that you are always the first to raise your hand and ask a really in-depth question in your history class. You never want to ask a teacher to write about you when there's even the most remote possiblity that he or she would have anything negative to say because you won't get a chance for rebuttal with the admission office - and, in fact, you probably won't ever get to see the letter to know what was said in the first place!

Benjamin Caldarelli
Partner Princeton College Consulting, LLC

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

Putting together a package for teachers that includes your resume and a letter that indicates what your goals are, challenges have been, and how you have pursued them and persevered through adversity will help teachers understand what you want and how they can best help you. Giving teachers this package at the end of junior year will give teacher the most time to write a great letter without pressure. Also, the college application in not the first time a teacher should be writing for you. Apply for something earlier that requires a letter. If the teacher is proud of the letter and has written glowingly, they will often want to share their letter with you. A little early reconnaissance can be very informative and helpful.