Parents so often ask us which teachers their children should ask to write letters of recommendation on their behalf. It should be the teachers who they best feel can articulate what your child brings to the class. So often, students choose a math teacher because the student got the highest grade on a certain test in that teacher’s course. But who cares which class your child got the highest grade in. Admissions officers at highly selective colleges can read that on your child’s transcript. A letter of recommendation that spells out just how Jacob secured the highest grade of all of the eighteen students on the trigonometry final just isn’t all that interesting. In fact, it’s not interesting at all. It’s boring.
Students should choose teachers who they’ve actually had discussions with. They should choose teachers who taught classes in which the students contributed to the class discussions. They should choose teachers who don’t have a reputation for submitting template letters of recommendation. Because every single college admissions officer knows when they’re reading a template letter of recommendation. These letters couldn’t be more boring and they couldn’t be more purposeless.
So, students, don’t think about grades when selecting which teachers to ask for letters of recommendation. Think about what this teacher can actually write about you, about what you contributed to class discussions, debates, assignments, etc. That’s the stuff that’s a whole lot more interesting than whether or not you got the highest grade on the trigonometry final. Good for you. Who cares? Not an admissions officer (although they want to see top grades, too, so we were saying that more for affect).
If you are a rising high school senior and haven’t done so already (which would have been ideal while you were still in school), now is a great time to be asking teachers for a letter of recommendation. Approach them in the fall for a letter of recommendation and your recommendation might not turn out as good as if you had approached them in the spring or early summer. Why’s that? Because teachers have more time over the summer. They’re not busy preparing lesson plans. They’re not busy grading tests.
When your teachers have ample time to work on your letter of recommendation, your recommendation typically comes out better for it. Teachers will be less likely to use a stale template that everyone and their mother knows is a template. Typically, templates contain a whole lot of adjectives about a student that mean absolutely nothing. But when teachers have time, anecdotes work their way into these letters of recommendation and it’s in these anecdotes where a student can really shine.
You don’t want a template letter of recommendation, do you? So ask your teachers now for letters if you haven’t done so already. Be sure to ask kindly. They are taking the time out of their vacation to help you get into college. They don’t have to do this. It’s not a job requirement. They’re doing it because they want to help you. Remember that as you craft your email asking them to do you this favor. It’s very important that your phrasing reflects this.
Have a question about getting teacher letters of rec? Post your question in the Comments section below and we’ll be sure to get back to you.
After students receive their college admissions decisions, they often forget to thank their teachers and guidance counselors. These are the people who made your dream possible. These are the people who often took time out of their free summer days to write letters of recommendation on your behalf. They’re not getting paid to write these letters of rec. They’re doing it because they care, because they want to help you pursue your dreams. How wonderful is that? If you feel like teachers and guidance counselors are simply expected to write these letters on your behalf, you should reevaluate immediately. They do it out of the kindness of their heart!
And so right after you learn of your acceptance, go out and get a card. Write a really thoughtful “thank you” note. Let your teachers and guidance counselors know what they mean to you, how they’ve influenced your life, and how they’ll always influence who you are and where you go in life. How incredible would it be for a teacher to receive a note like that? Just think about it. Teachers don’t make millions from teaching. Many do it — at least in part — to make the world a better place, to make a difference on the lives of young people. Let your teachers and your guidance counselor know that, for you, they made a major difference.
Let them know how appreciate you are. If you can, buy them a gift that’s meaningful to them. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on the gift. Get something from the heart. But that note will be most important so spend a good amount of time crafting it. Even do revision after revision if you have to (like you did with your college admissions essays). Think about that final scene in “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Think about how touched Mr. Holland was when generations of students returned to the school to thank him for making their lives better. Be sure to thank the Mr. Hollands in your life and you should start with those who wrote your letters of recommendation. As in right now if you haven’t already done so!
If you’re a student who applied Early Decision or Early Action this year and if you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to thank your teachers and guidance counselor who wrote your letters of recommendation. These teachers and guidance counselors took time out of their busy lives to write letters on your behalf. It’s not fun to write letters on behalf of so many students each year — it’s quite the hassle. Teachers and guidance counselors would much rather spend their free time outside of school spending time with their families, reading, relaxing, traveling — you name it. Do you think writing letters of recommendation for their students is often at the top of this list? Likely not.
And don’t just say thank you. Write a heartfelt thank you note. It’s the very least you can do. Maybe even include a present with the card if you can. But it’s important that the sentiment is expressed. Letters of recommendation from teachers and guidance counselors are of pivotal importance in the highly selective college admissions process and, so often, student don’t realize how little things might impact this component of the application. Students who say thank you, who take the time out of their day to express gratitude for the efforts made on their behalf — let’s just say that their letters of recommendation are often better than those who don’t. Because those who don’t probably weren’t as thoughtful before the letters were written either.
So go thank your teachers who wrote your letters of recommendation. Go pop your head into your guidance counselor’s office and let him or her know how appreciate you are for their help. It’s the right thing to do!
Teacher letters of recommendation are very important in the highly selective college admissions process. Don’t forget to thank your guidance counselor and teachers for writing their letters of recommendation on your behalf! Too many students forget to do this. Too many students upset their teachers and guidance counselor by taking their time for granted, by not expressing gratitude for the time they put in out of their busy schedules to write letters on your behalf. It’s a big faux pas, one that our students at Ivy Coach are taught never to make.
Do you know how easy it is for a teacher or guidance counselor to change some content in your letter of recommendation? They’re the ones who submit these letters. It’s not like you read them. They can write what they want. They’ve got all that power. So why make the foolish mistake of not demonstrating your appreciation for all that they’ve done for you? You shouldn’t only thank them for fear they’ll change your letter of recommendation for the worse. You should also thank them because they did something really nice for you. In life, when someone does something very nice for you, you should thank them and try to do something very nice for them back — or at least pay it forward like Haley Joel Osment did in “Pay It Forward.”
So say thank you! In fact, write thank you as well. Write a really nice note to your teachers and guidance counselor. Let them know how much it means to you for them to have done this on your behalf. Let them know that they’ve touched you and had an impact on your life. It’s pretty simple social psychology. Get it right! And, while you’re here, check out this newsletter on Effective Letters of Recommendation.
Rising seniors, as you’re finishing up your junior year, it’s time to start planning for the college admissions process. One thing you can be doing right now is approaching the teachers who you hope will be writing your letters of recommendation in the fall. Now is the time. Not in the fall. Now. Why’s that? Because teachers are overwhelmed during the school year. They’re busy writing lesson plans, grading tests, and spending time with you. Many teachers prefer to write their letters of recommendation over the summer months when they don’t have much to do and aren’t under a whole lot of stress.
The summer is such an easy time for teachers to knock out their letters of recommendation. And when teachers have a lot of time to write their letters of recommendation, you can bet that these letters will inherently be stronger for it. Do you think a teacher will write a better letter in between prepping a class for a midterm and grading a pop quiz or do you think a teacher will write a better letter when they can sit back, relax, and drink an iced tea? The answer is most definitely the latter. We know because we’ve seen it time and again. There is an advantage to giving your teachers plenty of time to write their letters of recommendation.
And your teachers will appreciate you for it. You showed a respect for them and their time. That’s something that, believe it or not, could even come across in your teacher letters of recommendation! So ask your teachers (and always ask nicely) if they’d write a letter of recommendation on your behalf now. Don’t wait. There’s absolutely no point in waiting if you already know which teachers you intend to ask. Give them the chance to write your letter on their time, in the comfort of their surroundings. It’s the best way to go.