Asking for a recommendation letter can be an intimidating task for many college applicants. Students might wonder how to ask for letters, how many letters they’ll need or if they’ll need different letters for each college. Students might even wonder, “How do I know which teachers to ask?” This question can be particularly daunting.
Regardless of whether you’ve selected three teachers or have no idea where to begin, the tips from students themselves below can help you approach this process efficiently and successfully.
1. Identify the classes that you excelled in or in which you grew as a student: Many high school students gravitate toward those teachers who taught their strongest subjects. While this can be a perfectly fine strategy, also consider those classes in which you struggled, but progressed over the semester or year.
It is impressive to have a recommendation letter that praises your natural strengths, but a letter that details the strides you took to drastically improve in a course can truly stand out.
New York University junior Kirollos Morkos chose the latter strategy. Morkos said he struggled in English class during his freshman year, but worked hard and ended up performing significantly better in his junior year – in front of the same teacher for both classes.
“Clearly, I had grown a lot from when I was a freshman, and my English teacher saw that first-hand more than anybody else,” he says. “Because of this, she was the perfect candidate to write my recommendation letter, even more so than the AP teachers in whose classes I got straight A’s.”
2. Spend some extra time on details: Obtaining letters of recommendation involves more than just the two-step process of asking a teacher, and waiting for the letter to be written. Focusing on the extra, less talked about details can help distinguish your application.
For instance, consider any supplementary materials that your recommenders might need, even if they do not immediately ask for them. Kenny Zesso, a junior at University of Notre Dame, says he made sure he had his resume ready and prepared for his teachers if they requested it.
Zesso said he also gave some additional thought to what message he could send college admissions staff with his specific selection of recommenders.
“I decided to ask a math, social studies/history and English teacher because I hoped to highlight my well-rounded curiosity,” he says.
Zesso noted that these were also people with whom he had developed strong relationships during the course of his high school career.
3. Remain confident: It is easy to feel overshadowed or crowded by all of the other students who are also asking for recommendation letters, but it is important to remain unswayed by these circumstances. Ensure that you still take the necessary steps to stay on your recommenders’ minds.
Old Dominion University senior Javan Tenemille says he found it crucial to make sure he consistently, but politely, reminded his teachers about his letters.
“I knew I wasn’t the only person trying to get a letter of recommendation from them, so I would just give them friendly reminders every week or so,” he says. “I had one teacher who forgot all the way up until the deadline, then wrote one, then I had to express deliver it.”
Another tactic to remain confident and to avoid getting lost in the shuffle is to approach your teachers in a unique way when you ask for the letters in the first place. Instead of just sending an email, or asking the question and then simply leaving it at that, consider what Morkos did.
“I approached them after school, and we talked about my future goals. I gave them a feel of what I wanted to accomplish in college and what drives me to be successful. I also gave them some background into my interests and hobbies I enjoy outside of class,” says Morkos. “It’s important for the teacher to really understand you as a whole.”
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