Select Page

Want to know your chances? Find out here.




You probably know if your teachers like you or not. You know that having at least a couple teachers who think you are outstanding is an important part of the admissions process.

But is it enough?

Unfortunately no.

Your teachers can think you are the best student they have ever had, and you can still end up with a lackluster teacher recommendation.

Writing a good recommendation is an art, and it isn’t something that is taught in teacher school.

A recommendation from a teacher who adores you might fall short despite your teacher’s best intentions. And worse yet, you may never even know because it is likely you will never see the recommendation before it is sent in.

So is getting a good recommendation completely up to luck?


There are some steps that you can take to make sure that you have the best chance of scoring an effective recommendation.

Check their recommendation history

One of the easiest things you can do to see which teachers write effective recommendations is ask students a year or two older than you who have gotten into top colleges which teachers they used.

Just because they were accepted doesn’t necessarily mean they had stellar recommendations, but if they gained a number of acceptances to competitive universities, you might have some clue that their teacher recommendations couldn’t have been all that bad.

Give your teacher plenty of time

Teachers get bombarded with recommendation requests during fall of senior year so the more time you give them, the better your chances are of getting a well thought out recommendation.

Remember that writing college recommendations is not something teachers are paid to do. Teachers are doing you a favor and some just won’t have time if you ask them at the last minute.

The best time to ask is within the first two weeks of school for early decision (or even during the last few weeks of your junior year so they have the whole summer!) and no later than mid-October for the regular round.

Set up a meeting

Ask your teacher if they would be willing to set up a short meeting with you after school to discuss your recommendation.

Taking the time to talk about what you are hoping they include in the recommendation and asking them if they have any questions they have for you will help them organize their thoughts and develop a concept you will both be happy with.

Provide a bullet point summary

During your meeting, provide your teacher with a bullet point summary that includes the qualities you hope come across in your application and specific instances from the teacher’s class that illustrate these qualities.

The summary sheet should look something like this:

Themes I am hoping come across in my application:

  •       I’m ambitious.
  •       I know how to face challenges.
  •       I work very hard.
  •       I am passionate about history.

Some examples from your class that I think would be useful:

  •       I revised my paper on World War II three times after meeting with you and getting feedback.
  •        You saw how intense I was in that conversation we had about the Vietnam War.
  •        I organized that field trip to the history museum after being inspired by our unit on the Cold War.

When you give your teacher this kind of structure, you help make it easier for them to focus not entirely on facts (e.g. “Tommy was the star of the school play and earned an A in my class) but on personal qualities.

Colleges already know these facts from the rest of the application so it is important that the recommendation reveal something else about you.

Providing such a blunt list can feel awkward, but honestly most teachers are grateful to receive some guidance on what you want – it actually makes writing the recommendation a lot more painless for them!

Offer supporting materials

After you’ve met with your teacher and told them what you are looking for, make sure you ask them if there is anything else you can provide that will make writing the recommendation easier for them.

Would it be useful if you gave them a writing sample from another class? Do they have a copy of the papers you turned in from their class or should you hand them back in for their review? Ask them if there is anything you can do to make the process go smoothly.

Send a reminder

Teachers get busy, and sometimes writing a recommendation slips a teacher’s mind. Make sure you send them a reminder well before the deadline so they don’t have to rush if they’ve forgotten.

Write them a thank you note

It is always nice to write a thank you note no matter what to acknowledge the hard work your teachers likely put into your recommendation.

However, writing a thank you note serves another purpose. If you send the thank you note several weeks before the recommendation is actually due, you are sending a subtle reminder to them to turn the recommendation in.

A nice card perhaps with a small gift will be enough to get most teachers on it!

You won’t be able to control everything in the teacher recommendation process, but if you plan ahead and offer support to your teachers, you can transform what would have been an average recommendation into an impressive one.

%d bloggers like this: