Getting the Best Recommendation Letter
Recommendation letters are the only place in your application where a college can truly get another person’s perspective on your character. Making sure that these letters portray you at your best will ensure that admissions officers are able to see you as a personality who will fit into their incoming class. However, trying to figure out which of your teachers will write the perfect letter of recommendation can be an extremely nerve-racking process. We have a few tips to help guide the process.
Choosing two teachers
You should consider a few things when picking which teachers will write your letters:
- Your relationship – Even though a teacher may have given you a great grade, they don’t necessarily know you as a person. Although you should consider your performance in the class, colleges already know you as an academic. Now, let them know you! These letters should complement your essays to provide a full picture of your personality. If you can’t answer yes to any of these questions, you should probably give that teacher a second thought:
Have you ever had a conversation outside of class?
Have you ever told them about something unrelated to school?
Have you ever worked with them on a project, for or outside of class?
- The subject they teach – Try to choose two teachers in different core subjects (math, science, history, and English). If your entire academic profile is very science-related, you may be successful with a math teacher and a science teacher. Otherwise, it will prove beneficial to choose teachers from different subjects to really give colleges a sense of you as a well-rounded and intellectually curious person. Even if you struggled to succeed in a science class, a teacher may be able to attest to the effort that you put in and the improvement that you made, which could even serve to explain your grade!
- How recent the class was – a teacher you had during your first year won’t be able to convincingly speak about your personality now. Colleges want to see you as a person now, because you are the student they are getting! A teacher who you had your junior or senior year is much more aware of your progress. Any teacher you have had multiple times should be given extra consideration because they can write about your growth over the years.
- The teacher’s workload – If one teacher in your school typically writes a large amount of letters, it may be to your advantage to choose someone else. Many students are attracted to the same, nice teacher, and although they may have been an amazing teacher, you should realize that they also have a lot to do. Imagine the stress you experience when writing a single college essay and multiply that by the number of letters your teachers have to write. A teacher writing thirty letters is not likely to pay particular attention to any one of them.
How to ask for the recommendation
Asking for the recommendation can be the hardest part of this process. When you ask:
- Do away with uncertainty – If you don’t know whether a teacher will write you a good letter, don’t hesitate to ask. Of course, be polite. If you can’t read their response by simply seeing their facial response, remind them of how nervous you are about college admissions, and ask them whether they think they could write you a good letter. Most teachers will be very understanding – they know how much college means to you, and will therefore be honest.
- Ask early – You should ask as early as the end of your Junior year because some teachers have a limit on how many students they will write letters for. The earlier you ask, the more of a chance there is that you will get letters from the teachers you want them from. They will also have more time to think about your letter.
- Ask in person – This may seem intuitive, but a lot of students request letters of recommendation over email to reduce their anxiety. You should always ask in person – it is more professional and harder to say no.
- Offer to help – Make sure to let them know that if they would like to meet to talk about you, your academic profile, or the college you’re applying to, you’d be happy to sit down and chat. If they don’t know you extremely well, you can also offer to bring in a resume or anything else they would find helpful. Do NOT, however, ask to read the letter or to write the letter yourself – this can be perceived as extremely insulting and isn’t in good form. Obviously, if they offer, you should accept, but do NOT bring either option up.
Once you’ve asked for the letter, you still have things to do. If they say no, now is your time to ask another teacher. If they say yes, you should:
- Send a follow-up email – You should send an email to thank them within a day of their response. Be sure to also send them an email at the beginning of the year, repeating your offer of help (#4 in how to ask). When you are accepted to any school, go and see them or send them an email to keep them updated on the impact they have had on your life.
- Follow up on any requests – If they ask for a meeting, a resume, or anything else, you should provide this to them within 48 hours of the request. Make sure to treat the entire exchange as a favor. They do not get any reward for writing you a letter, other than the satisfaction of your success, which means they are really only helping you because they want you to do well. Make sure to express gratitude whenever possible, especially by respecting their time.
Asking for recommendation letters should not be an extremely daunting process if you lay the foundation down correctly. Establish personal relationships with your teachers so that by the time you apply for college, they expect to be writing you a letter of recommendation because they know you so well. If you are already a second semester junior though, these tips should help get you secure the best recommendation letters possible.