The application process is long and can be exhausting. With all the different components you need to submit it can be hard to stay on top of everything – writing personal essays, crafting activity lists, and listing out awards. However, the one part of any application that isn’t submitted by you is the letter of recommendation. These letters serve to allow admissions officers to learn about you from the eyes of someone else and to gain insight into your personality. In order to receive the best possible letter of recommendation, there are a couple of important steps to remember.
1. Picking the teacher
The first step of getting a letter of recommendation is picking the teacher that you’re going to ask. This is an important step because you really want to pick someone who you believe would write you an amazing letter of recommendation. Remember that when you ask a teacher, you’re asking them for a favor by writing your recommendation letter; approach the teacher who would be willing to spend their free time writing a letter for you.
Think of someone that you have a personal connection with and who can vouch for your strengths – both academically and personally. Who do you have a strong relationship with? Maybe it’s your health teacher who also coached your soccer team or your creative writing teacher who helped you write an award-winning essay. You can also ask the teacher whose class you excelled in or the teacher who has seen you work hard and grow as a student. For example, if you received extra help from your chemistry teacher in order to understand the material better, then she might know how dedicated and perseverant you are.
Try to ask someone who has taught you recently (preferably sophomore or junior year) and visit them periodically to keep a strong relationship with them. In addition, try to diversify the teachers you will ask; for example, asking one humanities teacher and one STEM teacher can show admission officers that you’re able to perform highly in various subject ranges.
Now that you know who you want to ask, it’s time to actually ask them to write the letter. The most important thing to remember is to ask in advance – preferably at the end of junior year, but at least a month before the deadline. (Keep in mind that some colleges may have rolling decisions, so the earlier you turn in your application, the higher the chance you have of getting in.)
Try to talk to your teacher in person if you can. Remember to be polite and ask if you can talk to them for a couple minutes before jumping in and asking for the recommendation letter. Show them your sincerity and explain how grateful you would be if they were to accept. If your teacher declines, don’t take it personally – sometimes they might be busy or have too many letters to write already.
However, if your teacher is willing to write you a letter, explain to them the details briefly. This can include the due date and the colleges you are applying to. Later, remember to send them a follow up email with all the details and to express your gratitude.
3. Fill out a “Brag Sheet”
Once a teacher agrees to write you a letter, be sure to provide them with information they can use to write an amazing recommendation. Some teachers will have you answer certain questions about yourself that they already have planned. Spend time to answer their questions thoroughly and try to provide them with as many details as you can because the more material they have to work with, the easier it is for them to write a strong letter.
If a teacher doesn’t have preset questions, it’s a good idea to fill out a “brag sheet” to send them more information. This is where you can list out some of your accomplishments and talk about what they mean to you. You can also include more information about your personality and details about your dreams for the future. Furthermore, you can also include your resume and send it all to your teacher as soon as they agree to write your letter.
4. Final Steps
Once you’ve given your teacher all of this information, make sure to invite them to be a recommender on the Common App, Coalition App, or any other application platform you are using to apply to colleges. If you are applying for a summer program or internship, send them the details on how to attach their letter to your application or who to email it to.
If you’re applying to college, remember that you’ll probably need two teacher recommendations and a counselor recommendation. Although you won’t need to ask your counselor to write you a letter because they already know they will have to, send them your brag sheet and spend some time in their office to talk about yourself and your goals.
Now that you’ve learned how to get the best letter of recommendation, remember to follow all the steps! Hopefully these tips will help you through the application process! Good luck!