When applying to highly selective colleges, students should be submitting two teacher recommendations as well as a school counselor recommendation. Many students and particularly their parents believe the more recommendations a student submits the merrier, but these folks — of course — are disillusioned. An additional letter of recommendation from a former senator is not going to impress admissions officers, but it will lead them to think you’re trying to impress them which will invariably serve to make you unlikable (yikes!). But just because students ask the right teachers (and the right number of teachers) to write letters of recommendation on their behalfs, how can they ensure these teachers submit great letters?
The short answer is they can’t ensure these teachers submit great letters. Students aren’t privy to what their teachers and their counselor write in their letters of recommendation. Students waive their FERPA right to see this content — and if they don’t waive this right, it’s a big red flag to admissions officers that the teachers and/or the counselor wrote the letters under the watchful eyes of the students and his or her parents (yikes, yikes, yikes!). But, in our experience, a student’s teachers and school counselor generally want to help students. So how can a student maximize the effectiveness of these recommendations?
That’s easy. Students shouldn’t just ask their teachers to write their letters of recommendation. They should help their teachers and their counselor write these letters by giving them stories that can be prominently featured in these submissions — stories that exemplify the student’s intellectual curiosity in the given discipline (e.g., if it’s a math teacher, the letter should focus on the student’s passion for math). In our experience, the people who write these recommendations love these kind of stories because it makes their task of writing the letters easier. And, in turn, it helps the students too so teachers don’t end up submitting generic, template letters of recommendation.
One more thing. If everyone at a student’s school says the English teacher writes the best letter of recommendation, it’s probably best to be a bit skeptical.