As a high school teacher in my earlier life, September always meant the onslaught of requests on behalf of students, all whom I liked, to write a recommendation letter on their behalf to boost their chance of admission of the college of their choice.  Are all letters created equal?  I’d like to say yes, but honestly, no.  So who got the best letters and how can you get one too?

Whom Should You Ask?

All of the students who were asking were great students to have in class or they wouldn’t have chosen me to write their letter.  After about letter number 8, it can be a challenge to be creative with the content.  Those who got the better letter were the students of whom I knew more than simply they did their work, got good grades and participated in class. I got to know their passions, their extra-curricullars, their dreams.  I wove these into my letter to further make the argument of, “You want Shelby at College XYZ!”

Keep in mind, colleges want to hear from someone who can speak to who you are now.  Hopefully that is someone different than you were as a 14 year old freshman. So even if your freshman English teacher is your all-time favorite teacher, if you haven’t spent much time with that person lately, she isn’t your best choice for a letter.

Help Your Writer Out

If you don’t feel your teacher writing a letter got to know you outside of class, help them out by giving them a copy of your resume….your activities list, your brag sheet. As a matter of fact give a copy to anyone writing a letter of recommendation. They just might learn something new about you. This is just another of the many reasons why LEAP encourages students early on to develop a resume and update it regularly. Read our earlier blog post on the subject here.  If you are blessed to have access to Naviance through your school, they make it quite easy for you. Login and get started!

Don’t put the teacher behind the 8 ball. Your recommender is taking time away from work, family, and leisure to write this letter for you. Give them ample time to do so without feeling rushed and please, please put your request in writing with all the specifics: deadlines, schools for application, method of submission and more.  Don’t forget to attach your resume!  Have I said this before?

Finally, formally thank your recommender for taking time out to assist you. Everyone likes to be appreciated! Plus, you never know when you might need another letter or a favor in the future.

A Note to Underclassmen

Start early building positive relationships with teachers, coaches and other adults. They have a lot more to offer than just a recommendation letter in your senior year. Listen to their wise advice. And finally, get started on formatting that resume now.