How to get the best college letter of recommendation

Brooke Sheehy, administration beat lead

When the end of junior year rolls around, many students feel apprehensive about asking teachers to write them letters of recommendation for college. While it is only natural to feel gauche asking a figure of authority for a favor, it is important to know who and how to ask properly because these letters are a crucial component of the application that could greatly influence the admissions decision. Take a deep breath and do not panic because this step by step guide will help you to get impressive recommendation letters from any teacher.

Step #1: Choose the teacher(s) with whom you have a greater connection. Do not panic if you aren’t best friends your high school teachers because believe it or not, most people aren’t. However, it is important to pick a teacher who knows more about you than your test scores in the class they teach. Admission officers want to see well-rounded students who do well in school and participate in other activities.

Which teacher do you interact with the most? Which one do you look forward to seeing each time you have class? Which one do you run into outside of class the most because he or she is a club advisor, team coach, next-door neighbor, or attends the same health club or church as you? Once you have figured out which teachers know you best, it is time to move on to the next step.

Step #2: Ask the teacher(s) respectfully, in person, and well before the deadline for submissions. Teachers, like any figures of authority, respond best when treated with respect. It is essential to ask in advance, even as early as the end of junior year as many teachers take the time during the summer months to complete them. Teachers are just as busy as high school students, so if they do not receive your request with enough time, they may reject your request completely, or do a speedy and slapdash job. The teacher will greatly appreciate several months notice. It is also important to know that some teachers have cutoffs to the amount of recommendation letters they write each year, so the earlier you ask, the better chances you have of making the cut.

Whenever you decide to ask, it is unnecessary to prepare a long heartfelt speech trying to persuade the teacher to write your letter. All you need to do is politely ask if you can meet with them after class for a few moments or whatever time is most convenient for them during the day. When you meet with them, say something along the lines of, “I appreciate you meeting with me after class. I just wanted to ask you in person if you would be able to write me a solid letter of recommendation for my college applications?”

It is important that you stress the word “solid” because it gives them the opportunity to be completely honest with you should they feel they do not know you well enough to do your letter justice. If they feel like they know you well enough and they have not hit their cutoff, the teacher will say that they would love to write your letter, bringing you to step three.

Step #3: Fill out the double-sided letter of recommendation sheet in the counseling office with complete detail. This sheet includes questions about how you know your teacher, what your teacher knows about you, what you would like your teacher to know about you that they may not know all ready, and most importantly includes all of the schools that you plan on applying to along with their deadlines so that they know when the letter needs to be completed. With the detailed completion of this form, your letter of recommendation will be more versed, distinct, and comprehensive. While it is not your goal to overwhelm them with information that they will not have the time to read, it is important that you include all of your accomplishments throughout your high school career.

Additional documents you may consider providing them with would be copies of your resume and personal statement, both of which will help them have a complete understanding of your academic interests and motivations beyond high school.

Step #4: It’s your senior year, one month before your application is due and Naviance still says your letter of recommendation is pending? Follow up! Teachers lead busy lives, especially in the fall with the start of a brand new school year, so it can’t hurt to give them a gentle reminder. Be as confident and respectful as you were when you initially asked them to write your letter. For example, you could say, “I just wanted to follow up with you to see if there were any additional materials I could give you before you submit my recommendation letter via Naviance by the 15th of December?” Your teacher will greatly appreciate the reminder and the accountability you have shown in advocating for yourself.

Step #5: Thank your teacher for taking their free time to write you a letter of recommendation that helped to get you into college. A simple thank you in person would suffice; however, a thank you note and/or small gift of appreciation is also an option. In the note, emphasize how much you value the time they took to write your letter, and express how excited you are to attend your college of choice. While many teachers see it as a part of their job to help their students get accepted into a post-secondary institution, it is always a pleasant and appreciated surprise when students take the time to thank them for a favor.

Should you precisely follow these five steps, asking for your college letter of recommendation will be the easiest part of the college application process. There is no need to stress, but if you are currently a junior and have not asked for your letter yet, do it now!