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?

Nicholas Umphrey

Teacher Recommendations

Get a teacher who knows you well enough to vouch for your character, has a good read on your abilities as a student, and you are confident they will speak highly of you. This is almost always a teacher who teaches grade 11 classes. Be aware however, that probably 2/3 of your class will also hit up these teachers for recommendations as well. Make sure you give them plenty of notice before you need the recommendation. A thank you note is always a good follow up gesture.

Rana Slosberg
Owner Slosberg College Solutions LLC

Great teacher recommendations

Pick teachers who know you well, that you believe have a good impression of you, and that can relate specific positive experiences in the letter of recommendation. Schedule an appointment to ask the teacher, in private, if they feel comfortable writing a solid letter of recommendation for you. Describe your plans for college. Tell the teacher why you selected them and remind them of highlights like an outstanding paper you prepared in their class. Give the teacher a copy of your resume and transcript, the colleges you are applying to, as well as any recommendation forms they need with due dates.

Corey Fischer
President CollegeClarity

Ask early

Most students tend to ask the same teachers and they wait until the fall of the senior year. If you ask your teachers in the spring of your junior year you have a better chance of the teacher agreeing to write it and of the teacher witing a more thoughtful recommendation because he or she will have more time to write it. It can be helpful to the teacher if you give him or her a resume with your activities and also a sheet of paper explaining what was important to you about the class you had with him/her. Other information the teacher might find helpful includes: academic areas of interest (majors), summer plans, career aspirations, and colleges you are considering.

Karen Ekman-Baur
Director of College Counseling Leysin American School

Getting the Best High School Teacher Recommendations

It is important to ask for a recommendation early enough that the teacher is not put under undue stress and has plenty of time to craft an effective recommendation letter. It is usually advisable to approach a teacher for a recommendation with whom the student has had a good relationship and in whose class the student has worked successfully. A good recommendation can also come, however, from a teacher who has seen a student struggle through a difficult period and has seen him/her overcome those difficulties. This can often result in a powerful recommendation statement. It may be advisable for a student to ask his/her 11th-grade teachers for recommendations, as they will have worked with the student for a full year and will usually know him/her better than the current 12th-grade teachers. Please note, as well, that some institutions will indicate that they specifically want a recommendation letter from an English teacher and/or a Mathematics teacher.

Carrie Morris

Getting good teacher recommendations

In order to get the best teacher recommendations, you need to approach teachers who know you well (and can speak to your abilities, your work ethic, and your character) and give them enough time to write you a high quality recommendation. Cultivate relationships with your teachers, even if you don't think you'll need a recommendation from them. Ask them nicely if they'd be willing to write you a recommendation. Give them plenty of lead time--at least 2 or 3 weeks, if possible. If you ask the night before a deadline, even if you're a wonderful student, it might be harder for a teacher to put the time into presenting you as well as they might have been able to otherwise. If they agree, ask if they would like (and be ready to provide) a resume or sheet of paper with information that they might want to include or highlight. If they agree to write you a letter, but they don't know much about you outside of class, you might want to set up a half hour time to speak with them about the colleges that you're applying to, what you're interested in studying, and why you would be a good fit at those colleges. Be the student that it's a pleasure to write letters for, and you'll get better letters.

Riche Holmes Grant
President Innovative Study Techniques

How to get the BEST teacher recommendations...

The best way to get strong letters of recommendation is to do well in your classes, particularly during your junior year. Teachers like students who are engaged, who take pride in their work and who put forth a concerted effort to do well. Even if you don't start out with the highest grades, teachers are often impressed by students who work to get better throughout the year. You should request your letters toward the end of your junior year or at the very beginning of senior year. Select teachers you actually like, whose classes you did well in and who can say great things about you without a lot of "fluff." Write a brief letter to the each teacher formally requesting a recommendation and highlighting a few things that you would like included the essay (e.g., the leadership role you took in your group project). Also include your resume/list of activities so that the teacher can see what other cool things you do outside of his/her class.

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

The highest grade doesn't always mean the best recommendation letter.

The best recommendation letters convey specific details about a students ability, effort, strengths and weakness. Colleges can see the grade you earned in a class by looking at the transcript. They want to know more from your teachers. Specifically, they want to know what sets you a part from other students and whether or not you will be successful on their campus. So, if you got an A in a class, without much effort, that might not be the best teacher to ask. Instead, think about a teacher who watched you struggle and ultimately master some challenging material or the teacher who witnessed you going above and beyond the rest of your classmates.

Wendy Kahn
Principal Wendy Kahn College Consulting, LLC

Ask the right teachers.........

Teacher recommendations are not intended to focus on your extracurricular accomplishments. Colleges get information about what you've done outside the classroom from the rest of your application. What they're hoping to find out from your teachers is who you are inside the classroom. How strong are your writing and critical thinking skills? Do you make valuable contributions to classroom discussions? Will you be able to handle college level work? What's your intellectual potential? To get the best answers to questions like these, colleges prefer recommendations from teachers who have had you in class recently -- in either 11th or 12th grade. They also want to hear from teachers in core academic subjects: English, math, science, social studies, or foreign language. Don't automatically assume that your recommendations must come from the teachers who gave you the best grades. In some cases, it may be better to ask a teacher who saw you struggle, but who knows and respects your determination to master the material. The teacher who gave you an easy "A" may not have much to say about you beyond that. Also consider the teacher's teaching style: A creative teacher who encourages class discussion may have more to say about you than a teacher whose class is lecture-based.

Mollie Reznick
Associate Director The College Connection

How can students get the best high school teacher recommendations?

While it's probably a good idea to get a recommendation from a teacher whose class you've done well in, it should be an even higher priority to get one from a teacher who you really feel *knows* you and can speak highly about your character. Even if you struggled in that class and maybe didn't do as well in it as others, if that teacher saw how hard you worked and got a real sense of you from out of class interactions (perhaps you went for extra help which showed how much you cared about the class) he/she will be able to speak more candidly (and less generically) about your character.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Teacher Recommendations: The Best Bring the Student to Life

The best recommendations reflect the way a student has approached their education, attesting to a student’s love of learning and of the positive impact they have on the learning experience of all. The colleges will see your grades, so the recommendations need to put a human face on those grades. Students should establish relationships with teachers so that they can get to know them and can write a recommendation that says more than that they did a great job—as the grades shows. Indeed, for the strongest students the best recommendations often come from a teacher in a class where the student struggled for the recommender’s description of how the student faced that challenge may be far more valuable than yet another recitation of their great work. Recommendations should add to the picture of the student and let the school know what kind of person—not GPA—will be attending.