My best friend in high school struggled with this. She had everything in order: college selections, choice of major, completed essay, outstanding GPA…she was all set. But then she remembered: she needed letters of recommendation.
Late to the game, she picked two teachers she had that year and asked them to write her those recommendations. Then, her top choice college contacted her: they could not look at her application without receiving the recommendations. She spent the next month full of anxiety, having to remind the teachers she didn’t know too well over and over to write them and send them off so the college could, at the very least, begin to consider her.
Don’t Let This Be You.
Teacher recommendations tend to be the last component of the application we think about. We focus for years on the grades, months on prepping for achievement tests, and weeks writing the perfect essay. Letters of recommendation too often become that last-minute step we suddenly remember at the end.
Now more than ever, with schools making the SATs and ACTs optional and GPAs looked at with different eyes due to virtual schooling, a well-written, convincing recommendation can go a long way. When you are preparing for this step of the application process, be sure to take the following steps.
Make the Perfect Choice
There are those teachers where you came into the class, did the work, got the grade, and left…simple as that. No matter what that grade was, that’s not the teacher you’re looking for when asking for letters of recommendation.
Instead, you want the teacher you had positive, even memorable experiences with and likely connected with in some way. Maybe you struggled in this teacher’s class but, with their guidance, persevered. Perhaps your passion for the class combined with theirs led you to go above and beyond. Choose teachers who will be able to define you as a student and as a person whether you actually liked them or not.
Of course, consider your major when selecting which teachers to ask. If you are intending to be a biology major, for instance, be sure to include at least one recommendation from a science teacher. This will enable the admissions board to see your passion and expertise in the subject.
Actually TALK to Them
It’s so tempting in the business of everything in the college application process to send off quick two-sentence emails asking your selected teachers for recommendations. However, they are much more likely to get done to your liking and to get done at all, if you have a conversation with the teacher.
If you are currently going to school in person, find a time when that teacher is available. No, the three minutes between classes when they are preparing for their next group of students isn’t the time to talk. Find out when their free period is, or email them ahead of time asking when a good time to discuss the recommendation might be.
Be sure to tell the teacher all they need to know, like the due date of the application, the major you’ve potentially selected, and the colleges to which you are applying. Remind them of ways they inspired you in class and what you had to offer. Give them enough information to write an incredible and specific letter. And, most importantly, make this a polite and respectful conversation in which you show how grateful you are. Teachers do this out of the goodness of their hearts. They do not get paid based on if you get into the college of your choice.
If you are remote this year, put this in an email. Just make it longer than two sentences!
Remember my friend? The biggest mistake she made was waiting until right before the application was due to ask for her recommendations. Let’s think from the teacher’s perspective: they probably teach up to 150 students each and are asked for recommendations from many of them (especially the popular ones!). By the end of fall, they’ve probably had it.
Instead, make sure to ask for the letters of recommendation at least one month before the application deadline. Some teachers will even write them over the summer before your senior year so they have the time to make it personalized, thoughtful, and persuasive. Added bonus: teachers tend to be the most sentimental at that time of year!
At least two weeks before the application deadline, thank the teacher for writing the letter. This can serve as a gentle reminder to the teacher: “Oh right, I promised her I’d write that!”
In the midst of the seemingly endless to-do list when applying for college, the letters of recommendation are often easily glanced over. After all, it’s one of the only jobs you don’t have to do. However, the more effort you put into acquiring these recommendations, the better your application will be as a whole.