college coaching

When the junior year winds down, it’s hard to focus on anything outside standardized testing, but students should be aware that the last month or two of school is also the perfect time to approach teachers for a letter of recommendation. This soon?  Yes — this soon. Because “this” really isn’t all that “soon.”  Starting the college admissions process early is key to keeping everyone’s stress levels down.  After all, college application deadlines start as early as next fall — they’ll be upon you before you know it!

Teachers are busy people who like to plan ahead.  If they know as early as May or June for whom they will be writing a letter of recommendation, they can factor into their schedules ample time to think about and write their letters.  You don’t really want your teacher rushing through your letter of recommendation, do you?  And some of the more popular teachers, who are sure to have many requests for letters of recommendation, might also impose a “cutoff” for the number of letters they will write in a given year.  If the early bird gets the worm, get to it!

How do students decide which teachers to ask?

  1. Go for teachers with whom you share a connection.  Logic doesn’t necessarily dictate that a teacher who gave you a high grade will make for the best recommendation.  As a college admissions reader, I hardly ever looked to a recommendation to reiterate a student’s academic credentials.  Instead, I was looking to get a deeper sense of a student’s demeanor, personality, character, and drive.  Think about the teacher who can provide those three-dimensional details to an admissions reader, the teacher who can speak to your motivation and ability. If the teacher who happens to know you best also happens to be a teacher in whose class you’re performing well, consider that a lucky bonus!
  2. Seek recommendations from teachers in academic subjects. Think the five academic solids: math, science, English, history, or foreign language.  Remember that colleges are admitting, first and foremost, students.  Admissions officers want to hear from instructors in academic subject areas.  Unless, of course, you intend to major in something like music or art — you’ll then want to think about getting a recommendation from someone who can speak to those particular strengths.
  3. Timing matters.  Colleges prefer recent teacher perspectives to those that are older.  Junior-year teachers tend to be the best able at providing that perspective.  If you know you’re going to have a teacher senior year who taught you previously, then go for it.  Such a teacher can provide observations on your academic growth and development over the years.
  4.  Stick to the number of letters colleges require.  It might seem like lots of extra recommendations will be impressive, but admissions readers see them as overkill.  Sending additional recommendations is only advisable if the writer is able to share something important about you that will really beef up your application, something your other recommenders weren’t able to address in their letters.

Insightful recommendation letters are essential to an application. They add context and give colleges objective third party opinions of your academic and extracurricular achievements.  Choose wisely!  Read more of our college application tips for students.



Written by Lisa Albro
Lisa Albro is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Lisa previously worked as a senior admissions officer at Goucher College and as the director of college counseling at Solomon Schechter Day School and Xavier High School.