How to Help Your Teachers Write Strong Letters of Recommendation
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Sophie Alina in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
Letters of recommendation are crucial for your college applications. They’re also not something that you have ultimate control over because your favorite teachers are going to be writing them. Instead of worrying about what they’re going to say and how it will align with the rest of your application, you could fill out a few details about yourself and then provide it to them when it’s time for them to write about you. In this article, we discuss what information you should give the teachers who are writing your recommendation letters and why it’s important to help them out like this.
What to Include
To help out your teacher, you should provide them with important information about you and how you’re approaching your college applications. You want them to understand your goals, both academically and in the college admissions process. This will enable them to write specific, compelling letters of recommendation.
It might take a bit of work, but having this kind of information on hand will help them know what to write about and how to write it. Teachers who know you well will have a few of their own ideas, but these provided details can help them focus and construct a great letter in a shorter amount of time—something that a busy teacher will undoubtedly appreciate.
When you’re drafting all this information, you need to include the deadlines for each application. This will help you complete everything well before the due date. If you’re applying for something that requires a unique method of submission, you should include that information too. This way, your teacher will know when everything is supposed to be finished and how to get it done.
When applying to college, you should come up with an application theme. This is just a one-sentence summary of who you are and the role that you hope to play in your college community. It expresses a general idea about yourself and states your main goal.
Include this information for your teacher. It gives them a solid basis to start because they will know your purpose and then have a better idea of their task. They want to get you into college so you can achieve your ambitions. If they don’t know what you’re trying to do, they might feel a bit aimless as they write.
If you want to pursue a highly professional job, like a doctor or a lawyer, maybe you’re picking colleges with rigorous courses that will prepare you well for a challenging career. If you’re interested in a field that will earn you a large amount of money because you want to give back to your family or community, you should include that information.
Writing about your dreams enables your teacher to ground their letter. They’ll be able to pinpoint exactly what you want to accomplish, which helps them understand what their letter should do.
Pick three traits that you want your teacher to emphasize in their letter. Then, write one story that exemplifies how you have embodied these traits. It doesn’t have to be long, but you should include a few specific details.
Your teacher will then be able to write accurate stories about you and what you’ve done. It will give them more insight into who you are, which enables them to write clearly about your experiences and successes. They can frame the story as something that you’ve talked to them about. For example, if you have a job at a restaurant, you can tell them about an instance when you had to serve tables during a busy holiday. This will give them more of an idea about your work ethic.
You can also choose a story that shows how you give back to your community. Your teacher might not know that you volunteer at a hospital or clean up local parks. If you center one of your traits around how you enjoy giving back, they’ll now be aware of this.
In writing about these traits and stories, you’ll clarify the characteristics that you think are most important about yourself. This will enhance your application in general, and you’ll also help your teachers understand you better.
You’ve already written out your extracurricular involvement, so it won’t hurt to share all this with the teachers writing your letters of recommendation. They likely know about a few of the activities that are important to you, but it will help them to see everything listed out.
You should tie these to the personal characteristics and stories that you’ve already written about. Show how those traits relate to what you’re involved in, and describe a bit of your work in each extracurricular. If you’re a leader in any organization, make sure your teachers know this. If you have the extra time, write a story for each extracurricular. This will demonstrate to your teachers what you do outside of the classroom and why it’s all important to you.
More than anything else, your teacher should be able to speak to your academic abilities. Since they’ve had you in their classroom, they know what projects you’ve completed, the essays you’ve written, how you study, and how you take on challenges in your coursework.
Even though they’re aware of what you’ve accomplished in class, you should still try to articulate what you’ve gotten out of their teaching. Tell them about your favorite lessons or what you most enjoyed from their class. If you did any extra work or asked them for reading recommendations, for example, highlight that. Emphasize why exactly you value what they taught.
Teachers love learning. If you’re still interested in what they have to teach, you can use this as an opportunity to ask more questions about their subject. They’ll probably be eager to share, and they’ll also understand more about your approach to your studies.
If you’ve failed any classes or had periods of poor performance, let your teacher know. They can help explain why you haven’t always been successful. It’s important to describe how you’ve overcome any past struggles. They’ll see that you can recover from failure, which will enable them to speak to your strength in working hard and bouncing back from a bad performance.
Life Outside of School
You should be open about anything difficult that’s happening in your home life. It can be beneficial to have this conversation with an adult whom you trust, and it can also help your teacher understand your situation so they can more effectively write about your character.
Some students could be dealing with parents divorcing or dying, or they might be taking care of their siblings, especially if they come from low-income backgrounds. Caring for a sibling or an elder relative is a major undertaking. It shows strength and the ability to shoulder responsibility, which you’ll want your teacher to talk about.
These types of experiences can display characteristics that really speak to who you are. If you support your family in any way, it demonstrates how much you care about other people and the lengths that you’ll go to protect them.
If you work a job, even part time, you should tell your teacher about this too. It’s challenging to work and attend school at the same time, so having a job shows your ability to manage your time and obligations. It also demonstrates that you’re a hard worker both in and out of the classroom. Your teacher can tie all this back to your application theme and write about how they know that you’re capable of doing everything that you want to do. Since they’ll know more about your life, they can get a fuller picture of you and use this to write a letter that fits in with the rest of your application.
Why Your Teacher Needs Help
Writing down all this information might feel unnecessary. The person you’re asking for a recommendation letter likely knows you well, and you probably have a good relationship with them. However, you have to keep in mind that even the teacher whom you’re closest to has at least a hundred other students to look out for in a single year. They’re not going to remember every interaction that they’ve had with you. They’ll need to know at least a few things to refresh their memory.
Teachers are busy. When they’re working, they have to account for everything that they see and hear in their classroom, and when they’re not actively teaching, they have homework and prep work to review. Things will slip their minds. Even if they really care about you, they won’t know everything about you or what you want to do.
When you write down all your personal information, it will enable them to easily remember important memories of you and your work. Record specific moments, and include a bit of detail to help them recall how things occurred. Your descriptions will give them better insight into what they should write about.
The teachers whom you ask to write letters of recommendation for you probably care about you a great deal. You can return that care by giving them something to make the work that they’re going to do for you easier. It will help them out and it will help your application overall.