Colleges may ask you to submit a few letters of recommendation from your teachers, often two. Letters of recommendation give colleges an indication of how you perform in the classroom in high school and help them know how you will function in their classrooms.
Requesting Teacher Recommendations
Start thinking junior year about which teachers you might ask to write you a recommendation. Many colleges will suggest that you obtain recommendations from teachers you had during your junior or senior year. The thinking here is that you want a letter written by someone who knows you well, and that the teachers you’ve had more recently will remember you better. In certain cases however, a teacher you had earlier in high school may in fact be a better choice, like a teacher you had sophomore year but kept in close contact with through an extracurricular activity. While it’s important that you pick teachers who have a positive impression of you as a student, the teachers that know you best may not necessarily be the teachers who gave you the very best grades. Think about who knows you best in a classroom setting and who has the best idea of your “academic personality.”
Different colleges may provide different guidelines for the types of teachers they want to write your letters of recommendations. Some schools recommend asking teachers of academic subjects (asking an English teacher, for instance, rather than a Physical Education teacher), some recommend asking teachers from different academic subjects, and some recommend asking one science or math teacher and one humanities teacher. It’s very important to look into what each college you’re considering requires, but these different guidelines are all getting at the same purpose: each teacher recommendation should contribute a unique perspective on you in an academic environment.
Recommendations differ from many other parts of the application in that you are not the one submitting them—they should come directly from your recommenders. This means that they must be treated a bit differently than other parts of the application. Your teachers are helping you out by agreeing to write you a letter of recommendations, so it’s your job to help them out by making it as easy as possible for them to write you a great letter. Start thinking early about who you’re going to ask—again, junior year is not too early—and ask them as early as possible in order to give them at least several weeks to write your letter. It’s usually best to ask your teachers for recommendations in person. Check if there’s any information they need from you before they start writing, then, about a week after you’ve asked, follow up with a thank you note. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it takes a lot more work than you might think to write a good letter of recommendation, and your recommenders are going out of their way to make this effort for you. Second, a thank you note serves as friendly reminder that they’ve agreed to write a letter for you and will help make sure it gets on their calendar.
Many schools will allow you to submit an additional letter of recommendation beyond your required teacher recommendation(s). This letter could be from a coach, a mentor, an employer, or a peer. If they offer this option but do not require it, don’t feel that you have to submit a supplemental letter—it is most important to focus on the required pieces of the application. However, if there’s a part of who you are that you feel isn’t represented elsewhere in your application that would be best conveyed through an additional recommendation, sending one could be a good option.