Between standardized testing and essay writing, it can be easy to overlook another critical component of your college application: the teacher recommendation letter. Whether over calculus or American history, your teachers get to know you on a level matched by few others, and as such, their opinions matter greatly to a committee trying to secure the best and the brightest. These written evaluations are important to admissions officers because they often paint an interesting portrait of who you are as a person and student.
It’s hard to give an exact appraisal of just how significant teacher recommendations are in calculating a candidate’s overall chances, but just know that a mediocre to poor recommendation will significantly undermine your candidacy, and an exceptional letter or two can seriously bolster it. As such, be intentional when deciding who and how to ask for teacher recommendations. We’ve included some of our tips below:
Choose teachers who know you best
It should go without saying that you want letters of recommendation from teachers who know you well. They should be able to attest to your character and academic abilities with ease as opposed to racking their brains for something to say. Therefore, your first inclination should be to consider teachers who you have had more than once, or who have served as mentors in some capacity outside of the classroom (i.e. your English teacher who was also your debate coach for three years).
Choose classes where you earned a top grade
The fact that you worked your way up from a C to a B+ in a difficult class might make for an inspiring story, but that is not the angle you should necessarily be going for when seeking teacher recommendation letters. Go for teachers who saw you at your absolute best–ideally you were at the very top of your class (or close to it). Many recommendation forms will explicitly ask teachers to rank the student in relation to his or her peers–the elite colleges are looking for academic rockstars, so you want your recommender to be able to honestly say that you were one of the very best.
It may not always seem like it, but your teachers are real people, too. Life can get incredibly busy during the fall, especially considering the fact that most of your peers will be applying to college and require recommendation letters as well. Your best bet is to ask early, ideally as soon as school is back in session (though getting in a preliminary ask at the end of your junior year doesn’t hurt either). Always ask in person, and do it well in advance of any deadlines.
After your teacher agrees to write you a recommendation letter, give a handwritten thank-you note expressing your appreciation. And when you get that coveted acceptance letter (or email!) from the college of your dreams, be sure to let them know right away–they are invested in your success and will want to celebrate with you.