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-curriculars, 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 Out Your Writer

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.  LEAP suggests three versions of your resume each of which serves a purpose. Join our workshop to learn what they are then create these!

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. Most students will request letters in the senior year, however I prefer at making the request in the spring of the junior year. While your teacher won’t be able to submit his or her letter until the fall, letting him or her know in the spring allows them to use some of their summer downtime to tackle the letter, if they wish.

In the fall, you’ll then formally request the letters through Naviance, the application or other method as dictated by the college and/or high school. Give ample time so your recommenders aren’t feeling rushed. Even if you make your request through Naviance (or other method) in the fall, also doing so in person and via email is a nice touch. Include specifics such as deadlines, schools for application, why you want to attend each, method of submission (if not dictated by your high school) 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.