The Infamous T-Recs: How to get the best high school teacher recommendations

College Recommendation Letters

By Ari Finkelstein

When applying to college, you will generally need at least two teacher recommendations and one letter of recommendation from your high school guidance counselor.  The process for getting those letters is relatively straightforward, but there are certain things that will speed up the procedure and guarantee that you receive the best recommendations possible. 

First of all, approach your teachers early.  The best recommenders will often have the most recommendations to write, and they will be inundated with requests around the time that students are applying to college.  Give your teachers a heads-up well in advance so that they have plenty of time to think about you and write your letter.

Choose teaches that know you well.  Getting an “A +” in a class will not necessarily mean you’ll get a good recommendation.  That said, the class in which you’ve done well and in which you have a good relationship with the teacher is naturally the best option.  If you’re unsure, you may even want to schedule a meeting with the teacher outside of class to discuss your progress in the course, as well as your college interests and aspirations.

Give your teachers something to work with.  Don’t just expect them to know your life and academic history by rote.  Along with the official letter forms, provide them with a resume or a mini-bio, and make sure to include the following:

• Honors/AP/IB classes you’ve taken
• Any extracurriculars you’re involved in.
• Major essays or projects you’ve done for their class
• A list of classes you’ve taken with them (if there are more than one), and when
• Any awards won (history day, debate team, etc)
• What sort of college program(s) you are applying to
• Any leadership roles you’ve held (Clubs? Sports? Lab groups?)

If you furnish your teachers with the basic facts, they can use these to strengthen the points they’re making about your character.  If your biology teacher wants to write that you take initiative, it looks good if she can back that up with a comment, say, about how you led a project to the wetlands the month before.  If your math teacher is also your tennis coach, help him remember that you were a Math League participant as well as a state-qualifier in Doubles. 

When you hand them your information, ask your teachers if they have any questions for you, or if they’d like to see any papers you’ve written for their classes.  They might remember something that could help with your recommendation — something that you may not have thought about.  Make sure they have any and all information they might want at their disposal.  You don’t want half-page letters; give them enough to write about.

Finally, remember to write thank-you notes!  Aside from being common courtesy, these will keep you in the teachers’ good graces; you never know when you might need another recommendation.

Stay organized, and good luck!