A Guide to Getting Great Recommendation Letters From Your Teachers

All students applying to college know that an important part of the applications will be the recommendation letters.

One or more of those letters will most often come from a teacher. Teachers must tackle the daunting task in the early fall of writing multiple letters for students who ask them, some they hardly even know.

Andrew Simmons, a teacher in California, explained the process in the The Atlantic. He opens the article with these words:

“In late September, seniors case my classroom in the early morning and charge in before I’ve turned on my laptop. They corner me at the copy machine and at the entrance to the faculty lounge. They each want the same thing: a letter of recommendation. And when I say yes, the student presses a crumpled brag sheet in my hands and runs in the opposite direction. Most teachers who have seniors as students are lucky if fewer than 20 ask, and generous if they agree to do 15. Writing a meaningful letter of recommendation takes time, a luxury that teachers don’t have. Still, it is difficult to say no to a worthy student, especially one who has made a public request with pleading puppy eyes.”

Faced with having to write so many recommendation letters, teachers would appreciate some help. If you want to get a great rec, you should follow these five steps:

1. Choose wisely

Don’t choose just any teacher, or the teacher who gave you an “easy A.” Choose a teacher you have a relationship with, preferably one you have cultivated throughout high school or one from your junior year. A teacher who barely knows you can’t write a personal recommendation letter; you will most likely get a form letter, listing the components of your resume. That’s not the kind of letter you want or need. This is a good reason to establish relationships early in high school. A teacher who knows you and has shared in your academic and personal growth will be the one who writes the greatest letter.

2. Give the teacher plenty of time

As previously stated, teachers are inundated with letter requests, most at the last minute. As with all college application steps, this task requires proper planning as well. To give your teacher plenty of time, consider asking at the end of your junior year, or at the very latest, at the beginning of the school year. Your teacher will appreciate the time allowance and have more time to craft a thoughtful letter. With so many letters to write in the fall, giving more time will give you a leg up on all the other students asking at the last minute.

3. Provide the teacher with deadline dates and any additional forms they may need to complete

Don’t ask your teacher to write a letter and walk away when the request is granted. Give her a deadline and provide her with any additional forms she might need to complete. Give her clear instructions from the college on how to submit the letter; provide her with addressed and stamped envelopes if they are to be mailed. Waive your right to view recommendation letters on your application forms. Admission officers will trust them more if you haven’t seen them. Follow up prior to the deadline dates to verify the letter has been sent.

4. Tell the teacher why you want to go to college

Have a conversation about why you want to go to college and why you have chosen the college(s) he/she will be writing a letter for. This will help the teacher make the letter more personal and help her formulate her thoughts and ideas related to drafting the letter. Colleges receive thousands of these letters, so yours should stand out. This step will give her the information she needs to craft a letter that will get the admissions officer’s attention.

5. Provide the teacher with a high school resume for reference

Teachers appreciate having your resume because it helps them highlight specific areas they will be discussing in the letter. For instance, if they are talking about your academic success in the classroom, they can mention that you are also a member of the National Honor Society. The best letters discuss a student’s strengths (and, yes, weaknesses) and chronicle the growth they have shown throughout high school. A resume is a reference point for your teacher to look at when crafting the personalized letter.

And lastly, don’t forget to write a thank you note to the teacher after you’ve been accepted, letting them know how much you appreciate the effort they put into crafting your letter. It’s also important to share which college you will be attending and thank them for influencing you during high school to achieve academic excellence.