Teacher recommendations are an important component of your college admissions package. Getting good recommendations requires picking the right recommenders and asking them the right way; more goes into this process than you might think!
Give Yourself Enough Time
First of all, it’s important to think about the timing of your requests. You want to make sure your teachers have at least 4-6 weeks to take care of the recommendation. That means that if you are applying Early Decision/Action, it’s best to try to line up your recommenders at the end of 11th grade or right at the beginning of 12th grade. For regular applications, October of senior year is fine.
Ask The Right People
A lot of people believe you should ask only teachers who have given you an A for a recommendation. Though that is usually a good idea, it is not necessarily required. Sometimes it’s even better to get a recommendation from a teacher from who gave you a B or B+ but who can speak to how dedicated and hard-working you were in a topic that wasn’t your strength. That teacher can speak to characteristics that might not show up from a teacher in a class where you coasted to an A.
In some rare cases, you may want to ask for a recommendation from a teacher who gave you a bad grade. For instance, let’s say you received a C in English, mostly due to your work being turned in late, but the quality of the work was more in the B+/A- range. Having that teacher write one of your recommendations could help explain away a bad grade and let the college know that you don’t need remedial English in your first year.
Diversify Your Options
It’s also generally a good idea, unless you’re applying to a specific kind of program like engineering, to ask for one recommendation from a math or science teacher and the other from a non-math or science teacher. This balance will demonstrate strength in diverse areas. If you’re a student with a great transcript and a very high GPA but very few extracurricular activities, it might benefit you to have one of your recommendations written by a Physical Education, Art, or Music teacher to help in presenting a more well-rounded image of who you are as a person. Ultimately, though, you want two strong recommendations, even if they are from teachers in similar fields.
Take a Hint
When approaching teachers to write you a recommendation, ask directly: “Would you be willing to write me a strong recommendation for college?” Pay close attention to the response. If they hesitate or start to say something like, “I’m very busy,” just say “Thank you” and move on. A teacher is very unlikely to say to your face “No I think you’re a lousy student.” In those cases when a student has misjudged a relationship with a teacher, asking in person can add clarity.
Represent Your Current Self
It’s best to get recommendations from teachers who taught you in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade. You’ve grown a lot since 9th grade! If you ask for a recommendation from a teacher you haven’t worked with for a while, you should come prepared with the best work you did for that teacher, as well as some outstanding work you’ve done since then.
And finally, ask your recommenders if there’s anything else they need from you. You want to make sure they feel you’ve given them both plenty of time and the tools needed to write a great recommendation. And if you follow this advice, you’ll get just that: great recommendations.