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Who and how to ask for those letters of recommendation | On College

I am nervous about asking for a letter of recommendation from my teachers. Who should I ask?

Answer: Letters of recommendation are a critical part of your application and should not be taken lightly. You need to ask teachers who hopefully know you well either because you are very interactive in class or you have taken the time to know him or her outside of the classroom. The better the teacher knows you, the stronger the letter will be since he or she can add anecdotes and examples of who you are as a person, beyond just your grades or test scores. Ideally, that teacher will be from a core academic class from either junior year or senior year. Many students believe that one teacher recommendation needs to come from either a math or science teacher, while the second teacher needs to be either an English or humanities teacher. There are no hard and fast rules about this, and many students do not follow these rules and still get accepted to highly selective schools.  If, however, you are applying to an engineering program, it would make sense to have at least one recommender who can address your math or science aptitude. In either case, it is critical that you find teachers who can speak not only to your academic achievements, but can also address your intellectual curiosity, energy, leadership, character and contributions both to the classroom and the school at large.

When picking teachers, you also want to look at classes where you have enjoyed the subject matter and worked hard. Ideally, it would be a class where you received a top grade, but not necessarily, if the teacher can speak to your enthusiasm and effort to grasp the material. I always ask students to think about which teachers genuinely seem to like them since that affection they have for you will be readily apparent in the letter they write.

If you are uncertain if a teacher will be willing and able to write a strong letter on your behalf, I always ask students to ask that very question outright: “Can you write a great letter for me?” If the teacher hesitates, politely state that perhaps you can ask a different teacher, and move on. The last thing you want is a lukewarm letter as part of your application.

Many juniors are anxious this time of year, as they do not necessarily have teachers to ask at this point. Senior year teachers can also work especially for those students whose grades and work habits have steadily improved throughout high school, and they are not trying to have their applications completed in early November for an early decision deadline.

No matter who you ask, it is imperative that you give your teachers any materials that they request from you in a timely fashion so that their letter will not be rushed. Knowing that teachers are not compensated for their time in writing college letters, please be certain to acknowledge your thanks with some token of appreciation along with a handwritten note.

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