In this entry, we focus on the Teacher Recommendation.
It may feel as if you and your student have no control over what a teacher writes in a recommendation, and to some extent, that is true. But, with the right approach, you and your student can almost guarantee a positive recommendation will be written.
In spring of the junior year, you and your student should discuss which junior year teachers your student knows best and in which classes your student has excelled. It is best to select one high school teacher from the humanities (English, history, language – though most universities will want to see a recommendation from the English teacher) and one teacher from math and/or science. If your student is applying to a specialty program, such as music or art, a recommendation from a teacher in that discipline is essential.
If there are not two teachers in the junior year who your high school student knows well, it is fine to choose a teacher in the fall of senior year. However, being able to give teachers the summer to write their recommendations will produce a better product.
Follow this protocol for the best results:
- Your student should ask the designated teacher if they are “willing to write a positive recommendation.” This gives the teacher the option to bow out if the teacher feels their recommendation will be mediocre or if the teacher is swamped with requests and fears being able to do a good job.
- Once the teacher says yes, your student should give the teacher a list of the colleges to which your student will be applying, with the deadlines, and a copy of their resume.
- Most recommendations are now filed electronically, so it is a courtesy to ask the teacher if they might need help with an online submission. If the teacher responds yes, arrange with your student’s guidance office to get support for the teacher when the time comes.
- Next, your student should make an appointment to chat with the teacher. This will provide the teacher the chance to ask any questions for clarification on your student’s resume.
- More importantly, this creates the opportunity for your student to share the main characteristics (read elevator speech points) with the teacher and to ask that the teacher highlight said points in the recommendation, if at all possible. Your student should explain why they have chosen each university, where their interests lie, and why they believe the college is a good match for them.
- This same process should be used for non-academic recommenders.
Three final points that are important:
- There’s an old saying in college admission: “the thicker the file, the thicker the kid.” This means, the more recommendations that end up in a student’s file, the thicker the file becomes, which, in turn, makes the admission office wonder why the student feels the need to overwhelm them with paper. Two teacher recommendations, a school college counselor recommendation, and one recommendation from a non-academic person (coach, volunteer coordinator, intern mentor, boss, church member, etc.) should suffice. An additional recommendation from a teacher if applying to specialty program is wise.
- If asking an alum or a donor to the university for a recommendation, it will carry little weight unless the recommender can demonstrate they know your student well.
- And, always write thank you notes to those who recommended you.
This holistic approach to marketing your student in the college admission process will create a successful picture of who your student is and why your student should be admitted to the college of their choice. This process takes time, thought, energy, and planning, but the end result will be satisfying!