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?

Joseph Frick
College Guidance Counselor

How can students get the best high school teacher recommendations?

First and foremost: Be involved in the class, perform at your level, and strive to improve (or demonstrate improvement. Being involved in class means that you participate in class discussions (while not dominating them), ask questions, help weaker students, and work well with your peers. Performing at your level means that you are consistently getting doing your work and getting the grades you are capable of getting; few things underwhelm teachers as much as seeing a student who is just phoning it in when they could easily be getting better grades. This also plays into striving to improve: you don't have to be the best student in the class to get a great recommendation. If you are seeking out the teacher to get extra help, working hard, and improving throughout the course, the teacher is more likely to go out of his/her way to write a good recommendation. Aside from doing well in class, though, remember to ask a teacher at the end of your 11th grade year and get them to commit to writing the letter, but also provide them with more information about why you want the letter from them. Some teachers have forms to fill out, but if they don't, write them an email explaining why you liked their class, what your favorite activities were, what your favorite project was, what your favorite reading was, and also what you are interested studying in the future. If there are any circumstances that prevented you from doing as well as you could have--you had to work, take care of siblings, had family issues--make sure the teacher is aware. If you make the effort and give them the appropriate amount of time, a teacher will write you a solid recommendation.

Kerrie Troseth
College Counselor

How can students get the best high school teacher recommendations?

Recently, students have been asking several teachers for letters of recommendation, reading them, and then selecting the "best" ones. Unfortunately, this is not a good way to get the "best" recommendation. Start by waiving your rights to view the recommendation. If you have access to the letters (or your parents have access), the letter is deemed "biased" by the colleges. The admissions representatives know that the teacher had to be careful to write the letter so that you/your parents would not object to any of the information. A true recommendation will provide the good and the areas of improvement of a student. Most students/parents do not want the areas of improvement to be part of the letter because they believe it will decrease the chances for admission. The next thing you can do is evaluating which teacher(s) who can write your recommendation. Strongly consider a teacher who teaches a class that you may have struggled in. This teacher can probably attest to your determination and commitment to improve your grade (seeking help when needed, doing extra work, etc.). Teachers who teach a class that was easy for you will not have constructive criticism to provide the admission committee. Lastly, approach the teacher(s) well ahead of time and verbally ask them if they would write a letter of recommendation for you. Do not email them or write a note. Once they have said yes, then write a cover letter explaining why you need the recommendation, the deadline(s), and who to address it to. Provide the teacher with the cover letter, your resume, and addressed, stamped envelopes to the college. Don't forget the thank you note to the teacher afterwards.

Heather Tomasello
Writing Coach The EssayLady, LLC

How can students get the best high school teacher recommendations?

Ask early! Don't put this off until the last moment. It's a great idea to "prep" your teacher. For example: Dear Ms. Martinez, I really appreciate you writing this letter of recommendation to Duke for me. I thought you might mention: - How you've known me for 3 years, first as my AP British Literature teacher, then as the NHS sponsor, and again as my AP Composition teacher. - Remember last year you told me you appreciated my work ethic and how I always completed assignments on time and thoroughly? -The NHS food drive I coordinated last year with your help. We collected over 300 cans of food for the Suncoast Harvest Food Center. - My award-winning entry in the school writing contest last year. And whatever else you might think pertinent. Thanks, Mrs. Martinez! Sam Student Or whatnot. Make his/her job easier by giving specific details they might share in their letter. And following up with a thank you card and $5 Starbuck's gift certificate is always a great idea!