The Lowdown On Teacher Recommendation Letters: Who, How, and When To Ask

Teacher recommendation letters carry a lot of weight when it comes to college admissions. If done correctly, they provide a unique picture of you that your college admission’s department can’t get from your transcripts and even your personal essay. Your recommendation letter will give them an idea of how hard you work, the progress you’ve made over an academic year, and where your true strengths really lie. And most of all, hopefully what makes you you.

Admissions officers give a lot of importance to what the letter writer’s opinion of you. Sometimes, they are used as a deciding factor when assessing two candidates that are similar in every other way. So if you want to get a letter of recommendation from a teacher, how should you go about asking? We cover the who, how, and when below.

Who Should You Ask for a Recommendation Letter?

Some colleges are very specific about who should write your recommendation letter. Others will leave it up to you to choose (though you should never pick family or friends). In either scenario, you are going to have a crucial decision to make in choosing whom to ask. Even when they mention specifically that they want a letter written by a teacher, it still leaves it open to you to choose which teacher to approach.

Here are a few things you should think about when deciding.

1. Read Through Each College’s Requirements Carefully

Has your potential school just said they would like a letter written by any academic teacher or a teacher of a specific subject? Do they require just the one letter or do they also want a second one written by a school counselor or somebody else that knows you well, such as a volunteer coordinator? This may dictate who you’re able to ask and make the decision for you!

2. Pick Someone Who Knows You Well

It is important that not only should a teacher’s letter of recommendation meet the school’s criteria, but, it should also be written by somebody who knows you well, both academically and as a person. They can highlight any special academic achievements and your personality in an academic environment in their letter.

And don’t just approach a teacher whose classes you do very well in. Just because you score high marks in history class does not mean the teacher knows you well. You want to reach out to a teacher or instructor who is interested in your progress and is familiar with your work and achievements. Someone who does not know you that well will not be able to write convincingly enough about you.

It is best to choose a high school teacher with whom you have an excellent personal rapport. Avoid approaching a teacher from several years ago; they may not have the latest perspective on your progress and achievements.

3. Think Outside the Classroom

Is there a teacher you know well outside the classroom? You may have interacted with some coach on the athletic field or with a teacher at your debate or theater club. These instructors often get to know more about students outside the classroom and make excellent references.

How Should You Ask for a Teacher Recommendation Letter?

Now that you’ve identified the best letter writer for you, it’s time to ask them. But you definitely want to approach it the right way!

  • Ask personally. The most important thing to remember when requesting a recommendation letter is to ask personally. No messages, emails, or voicemails. A recommendation request must be made in person. Try, if you can, to approach them at a time that is convenient for them. This might be as class ends, begins, or even during an after school session.
  • Always be polite. Never demand. Explain exactly why you chose them to be your letter of recommendation writer. This will go a long way to getting a “yes” on your request. And be sure to thank them!
  • Provide pertinent information. If the teacher agrees to write the letter of recommendation, make sure they have all the information they need ahead of time, including any deadlines. You’ll also want to send them a thank you note after they’ve given you the completed letter.

When Should You Ask a Teacher for a Recommendation Letter?

  • Ask Early. The golden rule is to ask as early as possible. This is for several reasons. First, a lot of thought and effort goes into writing a letter of recommendation. It’s not something that can be written overnight and reflect well on the subject. Admissions departments will notice if your letter of recommendation is rushed or appears to be generic.
  • Give them time. Teachers are busy! Between classroom prep and grading tests, they already have a lot on their plate. By asking them well before deadlines, you can ensure you’re taking their time into account and being considerate, something they’re sure to appreciate. Plus, you’re likely not the only student asking for a letter of recommendation from a teacher. They’ll need to fit them all into their busy schedule.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute. Waiting until the last minute can backfire – big time. As December approaches, many teachers are preparing for midterms and the holidays. They likely have other letters of recommendation to write by this point. If you ask them just before your college application is due, you’re likely going to find they decline you. Sure, you might have a backup teacher, but they’re probably busy, too!

Asking as early as possible helps you to avoid all of these situations, ensures you’re being considerate of the teachers’ time, and lets them know you are aware you’re not the only student asking for a letter of recommendation.

Letters of recommendation from teachers that know you academically and as a person can really look amazing on a college application. Give careful thought of who to ask, how to ask, and when to ask. This is a sure fire way to get a “yes” in response to your request!

A solid letter of recommendation from a teacher can go a long way in getting you an acceptance letter from a college, but that’s definitely not all you need. Want to know more about what colleges are looking for in a student? Use our FREE College Match tool to get started.

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