Letters of Recommendation: 7 Tips for Approaching Your Teachers
The myOptions Team
It seems just like yesterday that you were a high school freshman, wide-eyed and intimidated. Now it’s senior year, and looking around, your school feels familiar, comfortable, and smaller than you ever thought it could. As you finish up your last rounds of SAT and ACT exams, the college application process culminates as you pick and choose your plan for the next four years. It’s your goal to put your best foot forward and cultivate an impeccable application for your dream school. So, what’s the first step?
Keep in mind that colleges are keen to learn about the candidate behind the GPA and test scores. They want to know who you are, what makes you tick, and the kind of character you display. Obviously, they can glean some of this through your personal essay and even the extracurricular activities you select. Another way they gain insight is through your letters of recommendation.
On average, colleges often ask for two or three recommendations. Though we know you are extraordinary, we can’t assume that teachers have stellar letters sitting in their top desk drawer patiently waiting for you. It is your responsibility to track down a teacher and ask for them. Here are our top 7 tips for going about this (potentially daunting) task:
1. Use careful consideration.
Hopefully, you’ve cultivated relationships with a handful of your teachers. Are there any particular individuals whom you feel know you well? Is there a teacher who has a firm understanding of your academic and intellectual strengths? Keep in mind, you shouldn’t ask someone simply because you earned an “A” in his/her class. A teacher who has seen you struggle yet persevere might be capable of writing a more compelling letter. If you’re not confident about the type or quality of the recommendation, it’s acceptable to ask a teacher if he/she feels comfortable writing on your behalf. After all, you want to choose someone who will happily embrace the task.
2. If possible, ask in person.
Try approaching your teachers during their downtime, such as after school and free periods. Asking in between classes will leave you both feeling harried. Be sure to let them know why you’ve chosen to ask them. If you enjoyed their class or hope to pursue a similar subject in college, don’t be afraid to tell them that! (No one can resist a little bit of flattery and admiration).
3. Don’t operate on the assumption that your teachers will say yes.
Prepare yourself for rejection, and don’t take it personally. If a teacher declines the opportunity to write you a recommendation, there is a possibility he or she may have too many letters on their plate or don’t feel fit to give you the quality letter you deserve. Don’t stress, there are plenty of teachers that are willing to help!
4. Offer a list of extracurricular activities/awards or a resume to use as a reference point.
To help your recommenders get started, feel free to let them know about your aspirations, potential majors, and what you hope to accomplish in college. You can also refresh their memories regarding particular projects you have completed for them. If need be, be sure to provide pre-addressed and stamped envelopes for all the schools to which you’re applying!
5. Don’t wait until the last minute.
Don’t casually ask someone two days before the recommendation is due. You want to give your recommenders advance warning; they should have enough time to compose a thoughtful letter. Additionally, there’s no need to harass them on a daily basis to see if they have a finished draft. If you give them the necessary deadlines and documents, the occasional check-in should suffice. Not only should you ask in advance, but also provide all the necessary information, documents, and deadlines! Let your teacher know whether or not the letter should be mailed, emailed, or submitted online. By equipping them in advance with all the information and materials they need, you make their lives a lot easier.
6. Think about the Buckley Amendment.
The Buckley Amendment is a family privacy law that serves as a safeguard of your rights in regard to letters of recommendation. Understand, that while you have the right to read these letters, colleges will ask that you waive this right in the interest of receiving more authentic information about you. Signing the waiver gives the recommender the flexibility to write freely about you. Realistically, no one is likely to agree to write a recommendation for you and then provide a bad recommendation. If you do not trust the recommender, then you should not have asked that person. In short, choose people you trust and rest assured that confidentiality will work to your advantage.
7. Say thank you!
No one is obligated to write a letter on your behalf. Don’t forget to thank your recommenders for their time and generosity. Let them know you appreciate their efforts. And keep them informed on all your college decisions; they’ll be delighted to learn where you end up! Letters of recommendation provide great insight into your academic prowess and intellectual abilities. So, don’t let your fear slow you down or stop you from asking altogether! Follow these tips and you’ll be able to approach any teacher with confidence.