There a lot of things that factor into college admissions: GPA, test scores, recommendations, essays. Recommendation letters play a particularly crucial role in admissions decisions.
Recommendation letters help admissions officers get to know you through the eyes of your teachers. This can be extremely helpful, if your teachers can say positive things about the type of student you are and how you contribute to the learning environment. If not, your recommendation letter could be more harmful than helpful.
So how do you ensure that you get good letters of recommendation? While students generally aren’t allowed to review recommendation letters before they’re submitted, you can still influence how your recommendation letters turn out by building strong, healthy relationships with your teachers. This can be easier said than done, so here are a few practical tips.
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1. Ask teachers who you like (and vice versa)
This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many students ask for recommendations from teachers that they don’t really like, or even know. There can be a lot of reasons for this. Maybe that teacher is known for being a good writer, or they teach your favorite subject. Nevertheless, if there is conflict between you and a teacher, those negative feelings towards you might show in their recommendation letter. Play it safe and ask a teacher who has plenty of good things to say about you.
2. Ask teachers who have something to say about you
It can be tempting to simply ask for a recommendation from a teacher whose class you got an A in, but this isn’t always the best way to go. Admissions counselors already get your grades from your transcript, so if all a teacher can say is that you earned a good grade in their class, they aren’t the right person to ask. While it may be scary to ask for a recommendation from a teacher whose class isn’t your best subject, this can make a great recommendation letter. If you have struggled in a class, that teacher might be able to speak to your work ethic, perseverance, or ability to learn from your mistakes. All of these are traits colleges look for in applicants.
Usually, teachers are encouraged or even required to write letters for any student who asks. This can lead to some lackluster letters if the teacher doesn’t really possess any insight into the student’s personality. One way to make sure you get the best recommendation letters possible is to not only ask the teacher if they’d be willing to write a letter but if they can write a strong recommendation for you. This gives teachers a way out if they don’t feel like they can do so and ensures you get the best recommendation letters possible.
3. Make a connection with the teacher outside of the classroom, if possible
Is your English teacher the advisor for the school newspaper? Does your biology teacher run Environmental Club? Is your math teacher also the Cross Country coach? Consider getting involved with these activities so you can connect with your teacher outside of class. Even if you don’t get involved, show interest in their activity and ask questions about how it’s going. This can open up a discussion and give you the opportunity to share about some of your extracurricular activities too. It’s great if your teacher can talk about how good you are at history, but it’s even better if he can talk about your role as president of math team and your volunteer work at the hospital as well. However, your teachers won’t know these things unless you talk to them beyond asking what the homework is.
4. Start early
While teachers usually won’t start writing recommendation letters until the fall of your senior year, it’s never to early to start thinking about who to ask and build a relationship with them. Start building relationships with your teachers now, and you’ll reap the rewards when the time to ask for your letter comes.