In a personalized acceptance letter that one of our students received this year from the University of Rochester, the admissions officer referred to information in her teacher recommendation as one of the main reasons this student was offered admissions (and a scholarship). Recommendation letters are not an afterthought–they can make a significant difference in your application. And if you are approaching 12th grade, you should be thinking now about which teachers you will ask to write your recommendations. And you would be well advised to request a recommendation ASAP!
During the college application season, a teacher may be asked at the last minute to write multiple recommendation letters, which is always a challenge. If you are one of the students that asked earlier, your teacher may have more positive feelings towards you and towards writing you a strong recommendation. Nobody likes being asked to do a time-sensitive assignment at the last minute! Particularly if you are thinking about submitting an early application (with most deadlines at the beginning of November), you will want to ask your teacher no later than the end of September, and preferably earlier.
Here are a few FAQs that we often field from students about teacher recommendations:
Which schools require recommendations?
Many private colleges and universities require at least one teacher recommendation. Some, like Columbia and Caltech, require two teacher recommendations. Please note that some schools like the two mentioned above specify which teachers should fill out recommendations (Columbia requires math and engineering majors to have at least one from a math or science teacher; Caltech requires one from a math or science teacher and one from a humanities or social science teacher). If you are using the Common App, you will send your teacher recommender a link to fill out an online form for you. In general, if you are planning on applying to any of the top 50 or 100 private universities or liberal arts colleges, you should plan on asking your teachers for recommendations.
What makes for a good recommendation?
Remember that admissions officers already have quite a bit of information about you–your transcript, test scores, list of activities, etc. They don’t need to read that your teachers think you are a bright student who finishes homework on time–that should be evident from your GPA and test scores. What they do want to learn is whether you are an intellectually curious student, a productive contributor to your class, someone who takes initiative in learning, and someone of integrity and leadership. Of course it helps if your teacher recommender is a good writer in general and can point to specific examples of how you are an exemplary student in his or her class. It’s even better if your teacher has seen or knows about some of your extracurricular activities and your hopes and dreams for the future.
Which teacher(s) should I ask for a recommendation?
We generally recommend that you ask for recommendations from a core academic teacher. In other words, you should be asking a teacher who has taught you math, science, literature, social science, or a foreign language. It is also helpful to ask a teacher that knows you well–that’s generally a teacher that has taught you in 11th grade or that is teaching you in 12th grade but that you’ve taken a class from earlier in high school.
We’ll leave you with a few other suggestions:
- Make sure to waive your right to read your recommendation–admissions offices will take the recommendations more seriously if they know that teachers could write freely about their students. In other words, recommendations that could have been read by the student are not taken very seriously.
- Give your teachers plenty of time to write your recommendation–be thoughtful of your teachers. Writing recommendations, though very common, is actually not a part of their paid duties. It’s a favor they are doing for you. Give them at least a month’s notice (we recommend more!) to complete the recommendation.
- Remember to thank your teachers!–again, teachers are often taking time after school and on weekends to write recommendations for you. Their efforts play a large role in helping you gain admissions. Have the courtesy not only to inform them of your college admissions results but also to write a nice thank you card accompanied by a small gift.
If you have other questions about the U.S. college admissions process, please feel free to contact Pasifik Consultants (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a free counseling meeting. If you’ve found this article helpful, please subscribe to our blog so that you can get the most up-to-date information on college admissions.