What can shy students do to get great letters of recommendation from teachers and guidance counselors?

I'm a decent student, but I have a very hard time speaking up in class and I feel really awkward going to see my teachers after class hours. I've heard that you're supposed to really talk with your teachers/counselors and let them know things about yourself in order to get a really good letter of recommendation. I'm wondering if there are any tips or tricks I can use to do this?


Anonymous, Helpful tutor/teacher

Approaching teachers to ask them for a letter of recommendation can be a tough thing to do. It made me very nervous as well, so you're definitely not alone in feeling awkward about it. Luckily, you'll only need about 1 or 2 for college admissions. As far as "tips or tricks" in doing this, there is really no better way than simply walking up to their desk before/after class (if they don't seem too busy) and politely asking them for a letter of recommendation for college or whatever the case may be.

What can make the process easier, however, is asking teachers that you are most comfortable with. Bonus points if you did/are doing well in that teacher's class or have a good relationship with him/her. It doesn't necessarily have to be a teacher that you currently have. When I asked for my letters, I asked one of my sophomore-year teachers that I had a very good relationship with. I really respected this teacher and I felt that the feeling was mutual, so I did not feel awkward at all in asking this teacher for a letter of recommendation. Ideally, you want to ask a teacher that knows you well, so that they have more personal subjects about you to highlight. Like I said earlier, bonus points to you if you did well in the class also because your work ethic and intelligence will be other factors that the teacher can bring up about you.

Make a list of the top 3-4 teachers you would like to ask for a letter of recommendation and ask them nicely outside of class time. Teachers are there to help you grow as a student, so they will be very happy to help you out. Also, they will be flattered that you chose him/her over the many other teachers at school! The worst thing that could happen is that they will say they are too busy with other work. In that case, just thank them for their time and move on to the next teacher!

It just starts with one question! Best of luck to you with this and with getting good letters of recommendation!

Manya Whitaker, PhD, Developmental/Educational Psychologist; Assistant Professor of Education; Educational Consultant

User avatar for Manya Whitaker, PhD

I agree with Amanda's advice. As a person who writes dozens of letters a year, it is sometimes hard to remember the wonderful details that make shy students shine so helpful reminders in a comprehensive portfolio (given to the rec writer at least a month in advance) are very useful.

I would add that it will be helpful to writers if in addition to your resume, you give them any personal statements/essays for the school/program to which you are applying, and a bulleted list of things you'd like the writer to discuss in their letter. Samples of your work from their classes is always a good idea to jog the teacher's memory about your performance in their course, if you weren't especially vocal during the class. If you are applying to a school or program with a special interest (Art, Technology, Culinary School), you may also want to include a sample of that kind of work too.

If your letters are coming from a guidance counselor with whom you've had little interaction, it is even more important that you include things such as your transcript, a list of community service participation, jobs, and extra-curricular activities so they can get a feel for who you are. If you have a peer recommendation letter, I would include that in the portfolio as well. If you have time, for each school/program for which you are requesting a letter, I would indicate which aspects of your portfolio are relevant to which school/program. The more information you give someone, the better!

Finally, you should also include a table with the school/program name, the due date, and stamped and addressed envelopes for the writers (if it isn't an online recommendation). I also like to get courtesy reminders 2 weeks before a due date so I can remember to put it in on my work schedule.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Amanda Burgess George, Professional Staff Advisor; Advisor for Freshmen and Transfer Students at Large State Institution

User avatar for Amanda Burgess George

This is a great question, and one that I bet lots of other students have, too.

First, you want to pick teachers or counselors with whom you have established rapport. If you're not sure where to start, think about your favorite classes. What are your strongest subject areas? When you sit down at night to do homework, which subject do you gravitate to first? Answering these questions may help you decide which teachers to approach about recommendation letters. Make a list of these teachers. Most likely, if you feel strongly about these subject areas, your teachers have noticed you, too. Just because you feel shy doesn't mean you are overlooked by your teachers.

Second, start by writing the teachers on your list. I can tell from your question that you are a good writer. Either in a letter or email, write to each teacher individually. Begin with a proper salutation (Dear Mr. Smith; Good morning, Mrs. Jones; etc.). Then, explain why you are writing. If you have specific recommendation letter guidelines from a college, list those guidelines here. If you don't, simply ask if s/he would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you. Explain why you are asking this particular teacher (you like the class; you want to study something similar in college; etc.). When I am asked to write recommendation letters, it is helpful when students include a copy of his or her resume. End the letter or email with a way to contact you, and suggest meeting in person to discuss your request.

Last, by writing a letter or email first, you have broken the ice without a face-to-face conversation. When you do meet with the teacher or guidance counselor, this written correspondence will be a great way to start the conversation. You are off to a great start by using a resource like Noodle.com. I wish you the best of luck!

Maryann Aita, Writer and Expert Tutor

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Everyone has given great advice so far. I would only emphasize Manya's point that you should remind your teachers of the work you did in their class. They may have lots of students and may not immediately remember all the work you've done. You could provide them with a copy of a project, but at the very least, you can mention one or two things you did that will remind them of your great work. If you wrote an essay your teacher gave you excellent comments on, you could remind them of this either in person or via email. If there weren't any projects in the class, you can remind them that you've gotten an A on all of your tests, that you did well in a science lab, etc.

I would also add that asking in-person is usually the best way to ask because it shows that you're taking initiative, even if you aren't always vocal in class, and it helps the teacher put a face with your name. Sometimes, it can be hard to find time to talk to your teachers in person, though, in which case an email is perfectly fine. Either way, I would suggest meeting your teacher in person at some point.

Finally, always provide a hand-written thank you for their time after they submit your recommendations. Usually, I send a thank you to my recommenders after I've completed my applications, but it's also nice to thank them in person and let them know what schools you got into and where you're going!

Stacey Ebert, Educator, Writer, Event Planner, Traveler

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As a former high school teacher of juniors for over a decade, I knew that letters of recommendation were part of the experience. Figuring out which teachers/faculty to ask is never the easiest experience, but guidance counselors can assist. Even if a student is shy, at some point in their high school career there was interaction with some adult. With at least five major subjects for the past two plus years, there were many people involved in the education process. Between teachers, faculty, staff and coaches, there's always someone to ask.

A handwritten letter (or even an email) is a great way to approach a teacher, especially if it is a difficult thing to ask in front of others. Also, as many teachers know about their students' lives in the classroom but not always what they do outside, I'd also recommend creating a resume/extracurricular sheet to attach to your request for a letter of recommendation. Be specific - show how many hours you do community service and what kind. Remind the teacher of a project you did or why you really enjoyed their subject.

Putting your request down on paper often makes it easier and provides an opportunity to express yourself in a way that a shy student may not choose to do in a full classroom. You might want to enlist the assistance of your guidance counselor and remind him/her of the adults you are going to/have asked for the recommendations and perhaps they can provide some insight into suggestions as to how to reach those teachers best. Also, keep in mind, that teachers often look past the shyness of a student and can see the person inside. Not everyone is interested in raising his/her hand or being the loudest in the room - if they were, it would be constant chaos. Solely because someone is shy, does not mean that their teacher doesn't know you exist. Be proactive - write a letter and ask early, your teacher will be asked by many. Also, give them some gentle reminders a few weeks in advance of when you need your letter as the dates for all of them often become jumbled. Good luck.

Carrie Hagen, Nonfiction Writer and Researcher, Teacher

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Hi, As a high school teacher of juniors and seniors, I have a few suggestions. Most teachers, in my experience, understand that recommendations are part of the job and agree to write honest references for students who ask.

Do ask in person if at all possible, and give whomever you ask plenty of time to write the recommendation. Many teachers, like me, streamline the process by asking students for specific information in a specific format. As you know, your teachers have plenty of paperwork, and handing them resumes, statements, other parts of the application process, etc., might be frustrating for them. So when you ask, see if they have something specific they want you to fill out.

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