So much more goes into the college application than simply grades and test scores; recommendation letters from teachers can go a long way towards placing your best foot forward. But getting a great recommendation requires more than simply inquiring your favorite teacher for a favor; it needs thoughtful preparation and good followup. (College Coach shares why teacher recs are important and who to ask in previous blogs).
Whenever to ask
At least, you should ask for the recommendation letter 6 weeks in advance of deadlines. Ideally, this particular request can be made at the end of junior year—many of my teacher friends like to write some of these letters on the summer, to ease their fall workload. Just remember that your favorite teachers are likely composing letters for plenty of your classmates, and they’ll appreciate the advanced notice.
How to ask
Be polite. Respect the time and energy you’re requesting of your instructor. And do it IN PERSON! Find a time after school or during lunchtime (not squeezed in before the bell rings) to catch your instructor in private. Then explain why you think he has valuable insight into your intellectual drive and that you’d become honored to have him write the recommendation letter on your behalf. If he or she agrees, ask what information you can share to help him write that letter.
Provide a brag sheet
Many institutions and teachers have a specific form, called a “brag sheet, ” that solicits personal info about learners seeking recommendation letters. Based on your teacher’s stated preferences or your school’s standard practice, prepare a brag sheet that not only references your activities and accomplishments, but moreover reflects on your growth and advantages in this specific course . Reflecting on the yearlong course, what are you most proud of? What prompted the toughest challenges, and how did you react? What project was a personal favorite, and why? How do you describe your efforts to the class, and what specific illustrations support that contribution? This is your chance to provide direct fodder for your content of the recommendation. And make sure you prioritize academic reflection over after school detail!
Waive your rights
If you are given the opportunity to officially waive your rights to see these recommendation letters, for example on the Common App recommendation form, you should do so. Colleges want to ensure that teachers can speak openly, without having censorship by students or mother and father. Without that waiver, colleges may wonder what info you are trying to monitor, and jump in order to negative conclusions.
Finally, when the stress of application season dies down, make sure you take the time to write a thank-you letter to the teachers and counselors that advocated for you during this process. And in the spring, don’t forget in order to update them on your plans for your next year. A little appreciation goes a long way!