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  • Writer's pictureDr. Thom

Ten Tips on Getting Great Letters of Recommendation

Photo by Ryul Davidson on Unsplash

If you are applying to the nearly 15% of U.S. colleges and universities that place considerable importance on teacher or counselor letters of recommendation, you need to start pulling together a short list of people whom you can ask. Like most things in the college search, at Golden Educational Consulting, we recommend (see what we did there?) that you start this process early in the senior year, or maybe, even at the end of junior year.

Here’s some other tips to help your application be enhanced by your letters of recommendation.

1) When considering which teachers to ask, think about who knows your classroom persona the best? That is, who can tell the best stories about times when you really shined in class?

2) Do not just default to the teacher in whose classes you received the best grades. The admissions office will have your transcript and will be able to see in which classes you excel. What they won’t know is what you are like in class, and that is exactly what a good teacher recommendation can provide.

3) As a general rule of thumb, teachers you had during the junior or senior year are preferred by most colleges. Of course, if there is a teacher who had you in class in 9th or 10th grade, but who has stayed in close touch with you, perhaps as an advisor or coach, that would also work.

4) Do not ask for a letter of recommendation from a teacher before or after class, do it officially through email. Teachers get a lot of things thrown at them before and after class and it is just not cool to ask for a recommendation in a drive-by fashion. And DO NOT group email the 2-4 teachers you are asking, that’s just lazy.

5) Provide each of your recommenders with your high school resume, or some other kind of brag sheet. Don’t have a high school resume worked up? Make a one-pager that lists your GPA, what colleges you are applying to, and a simple list of your activities. This is a simple courtesy that will help them write a better letter.

6) It is generally fine to submit personal or character letters of recommendations. These could be from coaches, ministers, employers, or other non-teacher individuals but submit them ONLY if the school allows you to do so and ONLY if it would really add something valuable to your application. This would be in addition to, not instead of any teacher recommendations you would submit.

7) Make sure to provide clear deadlines for teachers, and follow-up politely over email, again, NOT in between classes.

8) If a college says that letters of recommendation are “encouraged,” you should treat it as if they are required.

9) Educate yourself on the letter of recommendation process if you are using the Common Application so that you can serve as a resource to the teacher.

10) After they have submitted the letter of recommendation, write them a thank you note. Not an email, an actual handwritten paper note. Tell them how much you appreciate them taking the time to support your college applications.

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