Please Write:  Letters of Recommendation


Most colleges ask for at least one letter of recommendation from a teacher who knows a student well.  The question is: who to ask?

Selecting the teacher(s) who will write the letter of recommendation is a decision that should be made carefully. Here are five factors to consider:

1. The teacher should optimally have taught you in your sophomore or junior year. Middle school is definitely NOT an option (even if you took a high school level course in eighth grade). More recent faculty can speak to your current skill sets, abilities, and personal qualities. The transition to high school can be bumpy; freshman year faculty may not be able to reflect your maturity and academic prowess.

2. Just because you got a good grade in the class doesn’t mean the teacher is the best person to recommend you. If you cruised through without extra effort, did what you had to but no more, and managed to get an A, congratulations. The teacher will be able to restate what is already on your transcript. The person who writes your letter of recommendation should be able to add insight into the kind of student and person you are.

3. Don’t eliminate a teacher from the possible recommendation list simply because your grade in the class wasn’t stellar. If you worked hard, sought out their help when you struggled, participated meaningfully and your efforts resulted in a strong relationship with the teacher, by all means consider asking them to write your recommendation. Again, this letter is meant to expand and enhance what is on your transcript and resume. It should add to the entire profile that the school considers when reading your application

4. Ask early, and have a back up plan. Faculty will appreciate being asked before summer vacation, leaving them time to mindfully address your request. Choosing your letter writer in mid-October they are in the middle of the academic term leaves less time to produce a meaningful statement about what you will add to an academic community. In addition, know which teacher you intend to ask if your first choice cannot write a letter for you.

5. Be prepared. Let the teacher know if you have an intended major, why it is you chose them, why you have selected the schools on your list, and anything else you feel will help them write a letter that will add value to your application.

When your applications are complete, be sure to THANK the teacher who wrote that letter for you. Let them know when your academic plans are set- where you are going, and if there were merit awards offered. Let them know what their support, encouragement and teaching has meant to you. Writing letters of recommendation, when done well, takes time and effort on the part of your teachers. It is a gift to you, and a statement of their belief in you. When given a gift, it is always important to thank those who give it to you.