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 admission. Reading your recommendation letter gives admissions a look into that side of your personality. It is something they cannot get from your transcripts and your personal essay. Your recommendation letter will give them an idea of how hard you work, the progress you’ve made over one academic year and where your true strengths really lie.

Admissions officers give a lot of importance to what the letter-writer’s opinion of you. Sometimes, letters of recommendation are used as a deciding factor when assessing two candidates that are similar in every other way.

Considering how much there is at stake, it is crucial that you get it right. Who you ask, how you ask, and when you ask all play critical roles in determining the type of recommendation letter that you get.

Who To Ask

Some colleges are very specific about who should write your recommendation letter. Others will leave it up to you to choose your own letter writer. 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 whom to ask.

  • Read through each college’s requirements carefully. Have they 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?
  • It is important that not only should a letter of recommendation meet the school’s criteria. But, it should also be written by somebody who knows you well. Better still if they know you well academically as this will make it easier for the writer to talk about your academic progress, any special academic achievements and your personality in an academic environment.
  • 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 your achievements. A teacher who does not know you personally will not be able to write convincingly enough about you and your work.
  • It is best to choose a high school teacher with whom you have an excellent personal rapport. Someone who you know will write a stellar letter recommending you. Avoid approaching a teacher from several classes ago. They may not have the latest perspective on your progress and achievements.
  • 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 teachers often get to know more about students outside the classroom and make excellent references.
  • Not sure whether a particular teacher will give you a glowing reference? Then it’s better not to ask them to be your letter writer. You want to approach someone you can count on to boost your application. Not someone who will write a weak letter that does nothing to help you.

How to Ask

Now that you’ve identified the best letter writer for you, it’s time to ask them and yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to ask.

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 personally.

The best way to go about it is by requesting a meeting with the writer at a time that is convenient for them. Tell them what you are looking for and the deadline.

If they agree to write a letter on your behalf, there are a few things you need to give the writer. Make sure they have all the information they need to write a strong letter recommending you. Remember, even a teacher who knows you well may not know everything about you, especially your accomplishments out outside of their class. They can only refer to these achievements if you give them the necessary information.

Here are a few things you will need to provide:

  • A copy of the courses you have taken and your transcripts
  • A list of colleges you are applying to as well as the letter format if necessary and the submission deadline
  • Details of awards and honors you’ve received
  • Copies of the personal essays you are submitting to various colleges
  • Any extracurricular activities that you have participated and excelled in
  • Any research work, artwork or any papers you have written

When To Ask

The golden rule is to ask as early as possible. This is for several reasons. A lot of thought and effort goes into writing a letter of recommendation. After first spending time going through all of the information and documents you provided, the writer will then spend a considerable amount of time thinking about what to say and how to say it. Moreover, the teacher may have committed to writing letters for several other students. You’ll be in line to get yours written. Don’t take a chance and wait till the last minute. Otherwise, you may have to look for somebody else to write your letter of recommendation.

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