If you’re a junior in high school, you’ve probably been told many times that you should think about which teachers to ask for recommendation letters for college. Not only are recommendations required for college admissions, some internships may also ask you to provide recommendations. So be sure that you always have a teacher or mentor or two to ask!
Although recommendations are done by another person, it’s still important to make sure that you are staying on top of the game! First, let’s cover what you can do to make sure that your recommendation letters are strong.
1. Identify Potential Recommenders
Your very first step should be to identify which of your teachers/mentors would be best equipped to write you an outstanding recommendation. Be sure to make a list of about three or four potential teachers you could ask.
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For example, if you are applying for, say, a premed program, then choose teachers who can write letters that pertain to this area. Choose your biology or chemistry teachers or ask your calculus teacher to write about your strengths in these topics.
2. Be Enthusiastic and Participate
The best recommendations come from teachers who remember you as an avid participant and as a student who put effort into their class work. If you are currently in your chosen recommender’s class, demonstrate that you genuinely have an interest in and care about their class. Ask and answer questions during class, come in before or after school to get extra help, finish and turn in assignments on time, etc. All of these and more can show teachers you care, and they definitely remember this when writing letters!
If you are no longer in your recommender’s class, consider the following factors: Does this teacher know me well? Did I participate and offer valuable insight in class? How well did I do in the course overall? Try not to choose teachers who may not remember you or whose classes you didn’t actively participate in.
3. Discuss Your Goals and Interests
You don’t have to restrict conversations with teachers to topics related strictly to their class. Discussing appropriate topics with your teachers can provide them insight into you and your interests, while showcasing strong qualities they can write about you in their letters.
For example, maybe you can tell your computer science teacher that your dream is to go to an engineering school or discuss some of your favorite books with your English teacher! Maybe you really like history and wanted to share a new historical documentary you watched last weekend with your history teacher! Any of these things would definitely help you stand out in the eyes of your teachers.
Once you know which teachers can write you positive recommendations, there are a few key steps that you should do to guarantee that your letter is as fantastic as possible.
4. Ask Early
This is key when approaching a teacher for a recommendation letter. The earlier you ask, the better your recommendation will likely be. Definitely do not wait until the week before the letter is due to ask for a recommendation! Teachers appreciate the early request as it gives them time to think about what they will say and ensures your recommendation is the best it can be.
In addition, some teachers may not write a recommendation letter if you ask them too late. I know a few teachers who cap the number of letters they write at about fifteen or twenty. In these cases, it’s even more vital to ask early to ensure your letter is one of those fifteen!
5. Provide Important Information and Your Resume
Once you have identified and asked your recommenders, be sure to provide them all the information that they need. For example, share any deadlines, the colleges you’re applying to, include any extra forms that they need to fill out, etc. Show them that you’re responsible by giving all this information to them right from the beginning!
A recommendation letter can go from good to great if you provide your recommender your resume or a list of other activities you do or achievements you have. A resume isn’t required, as a teacher can write a good letter simply based off your performance in class, but it can definitely help your recommender add some information and improve the quality of their recommendation.
6. Follow Up
Teachers are busy, and this may affect when they get around to writing your recommendation letter. As such, be sure that you continually ask/remind them about your letter in a polite way. One of my teachers writing me a recommendation letter encouraged me to check in and inquire about the progress of my letter every few days—especially closer to the deadline. Often times, if you ask in a polite and respectful way, teachers don’t mind you following up and may even encourage it!
7. Thank Them
As I said before, teachers are busy. While they are typically more than happy to write a recommendation for you, be sure to show how much you appreciate it! Write them a thank you note afterwards to show them your appreciation; your acknowledgment to the time, effort, and thought that they put into your recommendation.
Recommendation letters can seem a little overwhelming, I know, but they don’t have to be. The main takeaway from this article is to build a good, positive relationship with your teachers who you want to be your recommenders, and to ask these teachers early! Make a plan beforehand about when you’ll approach your teachers and prepare a list of personal information about your hobbies and activities to help them. Good luck!