As a college applicant, it is up to you to demonstrate your strengths to your prospective college. Your high school transcript, resume, and personal statement all provide admissions officers with valuable insight as to who you as a student and who you as a person. However, colleges also often require a letter of recommendation from those who have worked closely with you in an academic or professional setting, such as a teacher or a former internship supervisor. These recommendations allow the college to get to know you beyond your test scores and see how others view your character. Although the content of the letter may seem out of your hands, there are ways to ensure that your letter of recommendation presents you in the best light. Here are five things to consider when seeking teacher recommendations for your college applications.
1. Give plenty of notice for a letter of recommendation
A hastily written letter of recommendation will not impress college admissions boards, and a late recommendation request will certainly not convey that you are responsible or dedicated to the college application process. Teachers are incredibly busy people. They have lessons to plan, papers to grade, and yes, other recommendations to write. Give each teacher at least a month’s notice before your earliest deadline. Teachers will appreciate the extended amount of time, and more time will allow them to write a more thorough recommendation.
2. Provide materials to assist in the letter-writing process
Although you may remember every interaction you’ve had with him or her, your teacher has interacted with hundreds of students and may not have all the details about your academic accomplishments. Providing your teacher with supplemental documents—such as a resume, awards and honors, and a full transcript—can ensure that he or she conveys a complete picture of who you are as a student.
Creating a resume that lists specific work or projects you have completed in the past will give your writer a better picture of who you are. You may also consider providing a list of meaningful accomplishments or interactions you’ve had with him or her in class—personal touches like these can make your letter stand out. In addition, meet with your teacher before he or she starts writing. You can remind your teacher of your class participation, discuss your plans for college and beyond, and provide him or her with more examples of your work.
3. When choosing a letter of recommendation, pick relationships over status
A letter of recommendation from the principal of your school or the head of your regional National Honors Society may seem ideal, but only if you believe you had a meaningful relationship with this person. General and unspecified letters of recommendation are very obvious and don’t help college admissions boards see the real you. Although you might think that your principal’s word will impress an admissions office, the math teacher that you spent the most time with during your study hall may have more impressive things to say about you than a principal with whom you rarely interacted. Choose to ask someone who has seen you grow and can attest to this growth.
4. Follow up with the writer around the deadline
Writing multiple letters of recommendation can be a heavy burden for a teacher, but there are certainly ways you, as a student, can alleviate some of that burden. Plan to follow up with your teacher as the deadline nears to ensure your letters will be received in time. Make sure to do this in a polite way—you don’t want to come off as nagging. Teachers will appreciate the reminder, and it is another way to show them that you are organized and take responsibility for managing your college application process.
5. Write thank-you notes
Did you get into the college of your dreams? Don’t forget that your recommenders helped you get there. After they invest a significant amount of time writing your letter of recommendation, update them on the final outcome. Plan to write a thank-you note to each writer detailing your future plans and expressing your gratitude.
Although asking for a teacher recommendation can be nerve-racking, considering your approach, planning ahead, and providing necessary materials when seeking teacher recommendations can help. It can be a smooth process if you give plenty of notice before the deadline and follow up on the status of the letter. Remember that your teachers also want you to succeed, and many of them are likely happy to help you do so.