Whether you are a freshman or a senior in high school, it is time to start thinking about what you want your recommenders to say. While recommendation letters do not make up the most important part of your college application, they can add glitter to an already amazing application package, clear up any shortcomings, or destroy an otherwise certain acceptance. In this article we will focus on the rating portion of the recommendation letter.
The Common Application Recommendation, the standard recommendation form used by most universities, asks teachers to rate each student against all other students whom they have ever taught. The overarching themes that teachers are asked to consider when ranking applicants are: Academic Achievement, Motivation, and Respect/Concern for others.
Academic Achievement. Academic achievement includes but is not limited to grades. Ask yourself the following questions to determine how teachers will rate you in this field. Do you contribute to academic discussions in class? How good are your contributions? Do you demonstrate good academic habits or do you forget to turn your homework in? Do you ever participate in academic competitions? Do you win? How good is your writing? How well have you mastered the subject material?
Motivation. Motivation means that you are not taking the easy way out. Perhaps you are one of those students for whom good grades come easily. Do you still go the extra mile to make your work absolutely stellar and to learn everything you possibly can about the subject? Maybe a course is pushing you to your limits. Do you seek help from tutors, friends, or your teacher? Have you done extra work to get yourself from that `C’ to a `B’ or from that `B’ to an `A’ or even from that grizzly `A-‘ to an `A+’?
Respect/Concern for Others. This category defines your character. How well do you work with others? Do you help the struggling classmate? Are you polite and respectful to your classmates and teachers? Yes, this includes the kid who has teased you since the second grade… you have to be nice to him. And the best friend that just stabbed you in the back… While you don’t have to be best friends anymore, yes, you have to be respectful. And that teacher who is absolutely unfair, who knows less about the subject matter than you do, and is rude and condescending to you and your friends... yes, you have to swallow it. You will, in life, meet and work with a lot of people like that backstabbing friend and that irritating teacher, and you will have to deal with it in a professional manner. Go ahead and start practicing now.
Finally, remember these categories even when you know that a particular teacher will not write your recommendation. News will travel fast. A faculty meeting will allow your math teacher to tell your biology teacher how absolutely unmotivated you are in her class. Get into a fight with your English teacher, and your classmate, (the one who doesn’t like you) will be the first to let your Spanish teacher know. Besides, good work ethics, motivation, and a respectful demeanor are characteristics that will serve you well in life. If you make them part of who you are, you will be that much ahead when you enter the real world!