How can students get the best high school teacher recommendations?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

How can students get the best high school teacher recommendations?

Suzan Reznick
Independent Educational Consultant The College Connection

Ask the teachers who know you the best

Often students make the mistake of asking the teacher who gave them the highest grade for a recommendation letter. That teacher may not really know you very well, on a personal level, and be at a loss as to how to describe you and your best qualities. Sometimes, it is in the classes where you might have really struggled, but still achieved success that would make for a stronger recommendation letter. Especially if you have earned the teacher's respect for what you overcame. Also, if one of your teacher serves as an adviser to an extra-curricular activity that you have become seriously committed to- that teacher knows you now in a different light and could comment on additional skills and /or passions. Whomever you do decide to ask- please ensure that they actually do like you!

Michelle Green
Admissions Consultant My College Admissions Coach

Ask your teachers early...

if they are willing to write you a good recommendation. Choose your recommenders, wisely. Can they demonstrate your strengths and minimize your weaknesses? Send them a resume/brag sheet, whichever your high school college counselors have asked you to complete. Give them adequate time to do this - that means several weeks, if not months before your earliest recommendation is due. Some public colleges do require recommendations. Others do not. It's up to you to research the admissions offices requirements. Do they want one English/Social Studies and one Math/Science recommendation? Will your teachers submit these electronically or write a letter? Most colleges will ask you to waive your right to view the recommendations so that the teacher/counselor can write freely about you as a student. The best time to ask a recommender is before the end of junior year. The next best time to ask is when senior year begins and the teachers have lots of time to write nice recommendations for you. After they write these recs, don't forget to write them thank you letters. On thank you cards. Really. By hand. Not an email, not a quick "hey thanks" in person. They took the time to help you get into college, do the right thing and thank them personally. Trust me...their letters will take FAR longer to write than your thank you notes!

Tyler Burton
President Burton College Tours

Ask early and be polite.

The best teachers to write your letters of recommendation are teachers who have had you within the past year. Your best match is a teacher who taught a class that you earned a good grade in. If you like the teacher but earned a poor grade then the teacher can only recommend your personal attributes and you are missing out on the opportunity to be recommended for your academic and personal attributes. The best opportunity is when you can contact a teacher from your junior year over the summer before your senior year and ask the teacher to consider writing a letter of recommendation. This will allow the teacher time to think and to write. If your school has not already provided you with a brag sheet please provide on to your teacher. If you have some schools in mind please share your thoughts. Your teacher may believe that you are a great fit at some of the schools you are considering and that will support your application. Always provide a hand written thank you note after the application process is complete.

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.

Megan Dorsey
SAT Prep & College Advisor College Prep LLC

Ask for What You Want and Follow Through

Students can affect the quality of their recommendation letters. Be thoughtful about whom you select: Ask teachers who can describe your academic abilities and personal characteristics. Ask early: Who wants to write letters over winter break to meet a January 1 deadline? Explain to teachers why you selected them and what you hope they will share in their letters: Ask for details that each teacher is uniquely able to present. Finally, don’t forget to follow up: Check to see if your teacher has any questions, and then deliver a hand-written thank you note when you know the letter has been sent.

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

Prime Candidate

At Crisp Consulting + Coaching, we provide the following strategy for our students in the college application process. Identify the teachers who can write effective letters highlighting your academic contributions, intellectual curiosity and personal strengths. This is not necessarily your favorite teacher or the teacher from the class where you received an A. This could be a teacher of the course where you faced struggle to understand content and achieve a good grade. Often this teacher will accent your work strong work ethic and academic prowess. Once you have identified the teachers who will highlight your academic and personal strengths, politely ask they are comfortable writing a strong letter that highlights your work in the class. Make the process easier by providing a copy of your activities sheet, your transcript and an envelope addressed to the admission office. During the process, it is acceptable to reconnect with the writer a week prior to the deadline to ensure that the letters have been mailed. Follow up with a handwritten thank-you note.

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

A strong teacher recommendation is vital.

Make sure you have chosen a teacher who will definitely have positive comments and who is willing to write the letter. It is important that this is a teacher of one of the core subjects--mathematics, English, science, foreign language or humanities-- from the last two years of high school. It would be preferable to choose a teacher of a subject that relates to your interests. Try to remind him or her of an instance in the classroom where your potential was on display. Also, make sure that you ask the teacher before he is inundated with similar requests.

Nancy Milne
Owner Milne Collegiate Consulting

The BEST teacher recommendation

Your best recommendation is going to be from a teacher who can best articulate their thoughts. This may not be the class where you got a top grade. It may be the class where you made the most progress from beginning to end. It should be from a teacher in the core areas, preferably one you had junior or senior year. Make sure you make the request with plenty of lead time and you will be rewarded with kind words.

Erica White
College & Career Counselor Middletown High School

How can students get the best high school teacher recommendations?

It is important to pick a teacher that you have a good relationship AND who is a strong writer. Student are often unable to read the recommendation before it is sent to the college, so students should trust that the teacher will present them in the best possible way. Even if a teacher knows you, if they are not a strong writer, the recommendation may not present you as well as a teacher who writes well. Also, it is important to ask early on in the college application process, preferably during junior year so that the teacher has adequate time to put thought in the recommendation.

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures

Teacher Recs

Plan ahead for teacher recommendations. Usually (not always) junior teachers are used for the recommendations. If you are not a student who usually makes an impression (a good impression) by participating in class or chatting with the teacher, make an effort to do that. You want to use the teachers who have enjoyed having you in class and who think you are a great student. When you request the recommendations, write a note thanking them in advance for taking the time to support you with a rec. Give the teacher a copy of your resume so they will have a "whole" picture of you. AND, ask for the recs at least 3-4 weeks in advance. Give the teacher plenty of time!