Teacher recommendations are an important part of your college application at many colleges, with most requiring one or two letters in support of your application. These recommendations provide additional insight into your personality, intellectual curiosity, and potential impact on your college community.
From my time on the admissions side of the desk, I know that many teacher recommendations have little impact for good or for bad on the student’s application. Admissions staff try never to penalize a student for something he or she can’t control; however, a “boilerplate” recommendation generally fails to add anything of value to your candidacy.
A few things to consider as you solidify your teacher recommendations:
- In most instances, your recommendation(s) can be written by any teacher who has taught you in a solid, academic course in 10th, 11th or 12th grade. What do I mean by “solid, academic course?” Anything from the disciplines of math, science, English, social studies, or foreign language. Religion is not a solid academic course in most instances. 11th grade teachers, and teachers who have taught you in multiple years are often the best candidates for a teacher recommendation.
- Check each college’s requirements carefully. Some colleges have specific requirements regarding recommendations from specific teachers–for example, math or science teacher recommendations for engineering applicants, or art teachers for art applicants. In general, it’s preferable to ask teachers from two different disciplines to write your recommendations.
- The Common Application Teacher Evaluation form asks about intellectual promise, enthusiasm, and initiative, as well as such specifics as “written expression of ideas,” “effective class discussion” and “disciplined work habits.” Think about which teachers might respond most positively and specifically to these questions, and who might best convey different strengths and dimensions to your personality.
- Give your teachers as much time as possible to complete their recommendations. If you are applying early decision or early action, then forms might be due as early as November. A month before the first deadline is not too early to ask a teacher; a week before is too late. Popular 11th-grade teachers may write several dozen recommendations each fall and devote a great deal of time to each letter.
- Make your teachers’ tasks easier by providing them with a digital folder with all the forms you need filled out, having your information already as completed as possible. Make sure the forms are well organized, and added points if you attach a schedule outside the folder, chronologically listing due dates for recommendations.
Teachers have many demands on their time, and these steps you take to organize these items will make a good impression and help ensure your letters are submitted on time. The Common Application also means fewer forms for teachers to fill out. Finally, it’s not pushy to remind the teacher of a deadline a week before it arrives–if the date has slipped his or her mind, you’ll both be glad of the reminder.
- When discussing recommendations with your teacher, either in person or via email, share your reasons for asking him or her. Why did you enjoy the class? What did you gain? Remind your teacher about some of your most memorable work in the class. Do you still have copies of papers or exams that you can provide? Think about which classes taught you the most; the best teacher recommendations aren’t always from the class in which you earned the highest grade.
- The purpose of the teacher recommendation is to clarify your academic contributions and learning style. A good teacher recommendation will focus on these ideas (perhaps including how you overcame any challenges). While academics are the most important, if the teacher has also worked with you in a club or extracurricular capacity, your involvement there can add additional insight.
- Caution: the best teacher recommendations do not restate information found in other parts of your application. As an admissions person, this was the most frustrating part for me. I really wanted new insight and fresh anecdotes to help me understand the applicant. It’s tempting for a lot of teachers to summarize your activities, clubs and organizations in their letter, but you’ve already included that information in your application.
- Teachers upload recommendations directly into the common application. You will provide your teachers’ email addresses in your application and proceed to invite them to add their letters. You can select different recommenders for different schools. They can then create a common application account and upload their letters.
- The Common Application will also ask you if you would like to waive your right* to see the recommendations. By all means, the answer is yes! If you don’t believe the teacher you are asking will write a candid, positive letter of recommendation, then choose a different teacher! Colleges will place less weight on a letter of recommendation if the applicant hasn’t waived the right to access the letter.
- If any teachers tell you that they are uncertain of how to write a thorough, positive letter detailing your strengths, Accepted provides “10 Tips for Recommenders” that you can share. This will also be helpful if you are asking your coach, employer, or another supplemental reference.
Once the Letters Are Sent
- Finally, thank your teachers for their time–both in advance and after your letter has been submitted. Don’t forget to let them know where you’re admitted and where you’ll attend!
From initial strategy through final editing, our experienced advisors can help you create each element of your Common Application. Work one-on-one with your personal coach, submit an application you’re proud of, and get ACCEPTED to the college or university that will help you achieve your dreams! View our Common Application Packages for more information.By Judy Gruen, former Accepted admissions consultant. Judy holds a Master’s in Journalism from Northwestern University. She is the co-author of Accepted’s first full-length book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!