Whenever we ask students who they think would write the best recommendation letter, they’re often caught racking their brains. We know recommendation letters can feel like just another checkmark on a long list of materials you need to compile for college applications, but instead of looking at it as a chore, think of it as free advertising where someone else gets to brag about you!
We want to share with you our strategy on how to get a glowing recommendation letter that will set you apart from your peers -- especially during the pandemic, when we are practicing social distancing and teacher-student engagement and interaction is difficult.
First things first! You need to research which schools require teacher recommendation letters and how many. Most schools typically want one or two, but depending on the school and whether or not you are applying to a special program, they might require three.
Once you’ve curated a list of schools that you are interested in, you can start asking your teachers!
How to Choose the Right Teachers For Recommendation Letters
When brainstorming for recommenders, we typically suggest core teachers: one humanities and arts teacher (English or Social Studies) and one STEM teacher (Math or Science) from your junior year, AP classes if possible.
One of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen with students asking for recommendation letters is equating their high grades to a high-quality teacher recommendation letter. Just because you’ve made straight 100s in your AP chemistry class doesn’t mean that your AP chemistry teacher will write a flattering recommendation letter that will dazzle the college admission committees!
We know that’s tough to hear. But the good news is that recommendation letters reflect more than just your grades and GPA. They’re a chance for recommenders to reveal your character.
Here are three guidelines to follow when asking for recommendation letters:
Ask a teacher who has taught you recently. Remember: teachers have 100-200 new students each year that they are responsible for. It’s really hard for teachers to remember that type of student you were freshman year and to then write a detailed and expressive recommendation letter.
Ask a teacher who knows about you on a more personal level. Someone who you like and you’ve talked to about things outside of the classroom or knows you in a different capacity. Maybe your calculus teacher is also the sponsor for your Chess Club, for example, and he can write about your amazing leadership skills!
Ask a teacher who has seen you grow throughout the year. This is related to what we said before about grades. Think about a class where you really had to dig your heels into it to be successful. Maybe, in the beginning, you struggled with the content, but by asking questions, coming into tutoring and studying, you improved. Teachers remember that and often reward that kind of effort. They’ll be able to write about the tenacity and grit you showed in their class.
How to Ask Teachers for Recommendation Letters
Now that you have a couple of teachers in mind, the trouble is how to ask during a pandemic!
By now, most schools have transitioned into distance learning. Even though teacher to student interaction is limited to Zoom Meetings, emails, and other forms of online communication, it’s super important to continue to cultivate a relationship with your teachers.
Regularly check in with your teachers. Don’t go overboard! Once a week should be fine. Teachers are people too. Just asking how they are doing and what they’ve been up to can go a long way.
Engage in online learning by asking questions and contributing to class discussions.
Communicate or attend online tutorials/office hours.
Always leave your online meetings or sign off in your communication with a heartfelt thank you.
Once you feel comfortable and have built that rapport with your teacher, you can ask them without this air of awkwardness! Most likely, they’ll be happy to write you a letter.
Remember be proactive and ask waaaay in advance! We recommend asking even before school lets out for the summer- that way your teacher has plenty of time to write a thoughtful letter. You can then follow up with him or her at the start of the school year.
Needless to say, the pandemic has not made the college application process any easier, but as long as you are motivated and driven, you’ll be successful!
Need help navigating the ins and outs of the college admissions process? Set up your free consultation today to talk to us about how we can help.