Your Admission Plan: Recommendations Proposal, 4

man in beige blazer holding tablet computer

In this final entry of our student admission marketing plan, we focus on the teacher recommendation. Yes, it may feel as if you and your student have no control over what a teacher writes in a letter of recommendation. To some extent, that is true. But, with the right approach, you and your student can almost guarantee a positive recommendation. Let’s analyze what a successful recommendations proposal looks like.

Narrowing down who to ask

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 with your recommendations proposal.

Be specific in what you are asking

When you ask, being specific helps you confirm they’re “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, wouldn’t be able to write a good enough 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.

Bonus points:

Most recommendations are now electronic. 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.

Connect live and talk it out

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. Moreover, this creates the opportunity for your student to share the main characteristics (read elevator speech points) with the teacher. If you’re comfortable, you can ask that the teacher highlight said points in the recommendation. Ultimately, 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.

Words of Wisdom

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 counselor recommendation, and one 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 for a recommendation, weight the benefit. Legacy 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!

Final thoughts

This series described some of our advice for those of you building your student’s admission plan. At Empowerly, we are more than happy to help you through this. From building your own recommendations proposal to simply telling you what’s next as you work through things, our counselors can help.


Read the complete Your Admissions Plan series below.

  1. The Applicant Elevator Pitch
  2. College Networking Scenarios
  3. Essay Writing with Style
  4. Recommendations Proposal

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