Picking your recommenders should not be rocket science, or is it? Not really if you pay attention to these small tips… The rule of thumb is to select two teachers who know you well and who, preferably, have taught you in junior year because teachers from previous years might not remember you in detail, and the teachers in senior year will not have had a chance to know you for a full year by the time the recommendation letters are written. It is best to ask each teacher face-to-face if s/he would be willing to write a recommendation letter for you. This should preferably be done at the end of junior year because teachers get booked early on during senior year and might not have time due to the enormous number of recommendation letters that they are asked to write.
Every college has a different number of recommendation letters they require, so you need to check with each college’s policy before you can decide how many letters you will need. You will often find that many of your colleges will ask you to submit two letters of recommendation from core subject areas (such as English, Math, Science, History, and World Languages) and one letter of recommendation written by your high school guidance counselor, also known as the counselor’s evaluation. That is why you need to have a close relationship with your high school counselor as soon as you step foot in high school as early as ninth grade so that by the time you are a senior, your counselor will have known a good amount of valuable information about you to write in that letter. Keep in mind that teachers and high school counselors almost always tend to give information about your academic achievements in those letters, overlooking some personal qualities that might be valuable for colleges. In this case, I would highly recommend that you ask one of your recommenders to write what we call a “character essay”, which will mainly focus on your personality to round up your application.
At the beginning of senior year, you need to remind your recommenders about the deadlines and hand in your “brag sheet” or “resume” so that your teachers can get to know you better outside of the class. Also, if the recommender happens to be an English or History teacher, submitting a past assignment that was graded and that the teacher loved would be a great idea just to refresh her/his memory about your past performance in her/his class.
Finally, it would be a good idea to set a personal deadline to check on the application portal or Common App to see if all the recommendation letters have been submitted well before the actual deadline. After you make sure that all of your recommendation letters are sent, remember to write a “thank you” card or send an email to each of your recommenders, thanking them for their time. Keep in mind that a good-old hand-written card is always the best to add a personal touch of gratitude!
Here at EdMission Possible, we believe that recommendation letters are usually seen as a confirmation of an applicant’s qualifications which will help close the deal. Therefore, it is very important that you know whom to ask and how to ask for such letters because a good recommendation letter could contribute to a desirable admission outcome, whereas a poorly-written one might jeopardize it.
Good luck with your hunt for recommendations!
Burcak Deniz Cakir, M.A., M.B.A.
Founder and President | EdMission Possible