Recommendation Letters

Juniors: Time to Ask Teachers for Recommendations!



Many colleges require letters of recommendation from the people who know students best in an academic setting -- your high school counselor and teachers.  Letters of recommendation from teachers tell admission officers how students contribute to the academic and intellectual life of their high school.

Now is the time to ask those teachers whom you would like to write for you, especially if you are enjoying a class and connecting with the teacher or planning to apply under an early program. You want to ask teachers who know you well and have taught you recently in a challenging class.

When you ask, keep in mind that writing letters of recommendation is not part of a teacher's normal job duties and you should approach your teachers with a polite considerate request. Here are some pointers:

                *             Ask in person. No emails. A personal request is most thoughtful. Here's a sound bite: "I'm thinking ahead to college applications and wonder if you feel writing a recommendation is something you can do for me."

How Teachers Make a Case for Their Students

In "The Art of the College Recommendation Letter" in Atlantic Online, teacher Andrew Simmons pens a revealing look at how teachers make a case for their students. It's a wonderful message for students and parents and a model for teachers. One of the many terrific takeaways: "...I am uncovering and illuminating what has not been made clear. I am not, like a good news reporter, free from bias. I think my students deserve careful consideration. But I have a responsibility to emphasize that without resorting to hyperbole. Students get themselves into college, but when teachers tell their stories well, we can give admissions officers a more enlightened perspective." 

Seniors: Requesting Recommendation Letters


Most private colleges -- and more and more public universities -- require letters of recommendation from one or two classroom teachers of academic subjects and the high school guidance or college counselor. Make sure you provide the teachers and counselor who will write your recommendations with a list of the colleges to which you are applying, deadlines for the recommendations and any required forms. It may also be helpful to provide the teachers who are writing your recommendations with a note telling them why you have chosen them to write for you.

If you have not requested these letters of recommendation, do so immediately by speaking in person with your teachers and counselor.  And don’t forget to check the policies and guidelines for recommendations of both your high school and the colleges to which you're applying to be sure all requirements are being met.

You can find more information about recommendation letters, such as waiving privacy rights and supplemental recommendations, in Chapter 12, “Recommendations,” of College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.