Your letter of recommendation for a college application might not be the most important part of your application, but it certainly plays a key role and could end up being the reason you get accepted. Colleges look at students holistically; they consider your ACT/SAT scores as well as high school GPA and class rank to see how you stack up on paper, and then look at your letter of recommendation and personal statement to see what kind of a person you are.
Keep those things in mind as you search for a teacher whom you’ll ask to write that imperative letter.
1. Find a teacher who truly cares
Some teachers simply like to clock in to school before the first bell and clock out after the last bell. They aren’t around much after hours, and they don’t seem to care much about being available to help students outside of class. Avoid asking these teachers for a recommendation. Instead, find the teachers who are always available for additional help and who care the most.
2. Ask a teacher in the field in which you plan on studying
If you are going to major in Engineering, ask a math teacher to write your letter. If you will be majoring in Journalism, go to an English teacher. These teachers will know your subject skills better and understand exactly how to tailor the letter to exemplify your abilities in that field.
3. Be the teacher’s favorite student
It’s not enough to simply pick the teacher who knows you best – you need to be that teacher’s favorite student. That teacher must know you better than anyone else. Colleges read hundreds of letters of recommendation each day, and they can tell when a teacher is just throwing words on a page or when a teacher truly believes in you.
So, find a teacher in your field and participate as much as you can in their class. Visit them after class and discuss that day’s lesson material with them. Review extra math problems or how you could have better crafted your essay. Once you’ve developed enough of a rapport with them, seek guidance in your college application. And most importantly, make sure you ace their class. This is all how you will earn a teacher’s respect, and that will make your letter of recommendation clearly stand out from the rest.
4. Avoid the teacher that everyone else picks
If your high school has a world-renowned physicist on staff or an award-winning author, it would look great to have a letter of recommendation from him or her. However, does that teacher know you well enough to write a personal letter? Moreover, every other student in your class is going to ask that teacher. So, unless you do happen to be this teacher’s favorite student, do not ask them to write your letter.
5. Ask the right way
Don’t just say that you “need a letter of recommendation for college,” or that “this college requires a letter of recommendation.” If you position your request like that, you’ll make it sound like a chore. Instead, you should politely say something along the lines of “I know you’re very busy and are always very generous in giving your time to students, but it would mean a lot to me if you could write me a letter of recommendation for college.”
6. Figure out the details
Does the teacher have to email the letter or snail-mail it? If it’s email, give them the email address right away. If it’s standard mail, bring a stamped and addressed envelope. Make this process as easy as possible for them. Tell them when it’s due and give them plenty of time – at least a month – to write it.
7. Send them two thank-you cards
Send a note both before your teacher has finished the letter as well as after they have completed it. Both times will show your genuine appreciation and possibly gain you a few extra brownie points that could show up in the letter. You’ll definitely want those brownie points before they send it.