Get Great College Recommendations from Your Teachers

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Applying to Colleges is a Process: Begin Early

Tiger Mom, one of our fellow Hubbers, recently posted the following questions:

How do you ask a teacher for a letter of recommendation? How much weight does this letter of recommendation carry in your college application? Should you waive the right to review it before it's sent?

In my experience, both as a student and a professor, a letter of recommendation can carry a lot of weight. Lots of students apply who have great GPA's and excellent SAT or GRE scores.

So often admission decisions are made based on something else.. most often on faculty recommendations or student essays (which is another topic all together). It is very important that you have two to three good letters of recommendation.

Start the Process as a Sophmore

Asking a teacher to write a letter is not the problem (more on that in a minute). The real issue is, have you built a relationship with a teacher? Was your attendance good? Did you speak up in class? Were your exams and assignments of high quality? Did you visit the faculty in their office just to talk? Does the teacher really know anything about you? Have you been discussing your post-graduation plans with them?

If you can answer yes to most of these questions, then you should ask that teacher/professor for a recommendation. Here is what you should do. Start early in your senior year, maybe even over the summer, gathering all the information and application materials from the schools you hope to attend.

Make sure you ask the teacher for a letter at last three months before the final deadline. Teachers can be exceedingly busy and some of us receive requests to write several letters almost every semester.


Organize, Organize, Organize

Be extremely organized. Fill out all the necessary forms - for each professor you are asking and for each college or university you are applying to. Sign and date all the applications. Make sure you include a stamped addressed envelope if one is required.

Complete a detailed resume on yourself, include all your noteworthy activities, both in and out of school. Volunteer activities, offices you held in student government or "serious" school clubs or organizations, participation in philanthropic organizations, church or school mission trips, political activities - emphasize what you did to be helpful, not who you were supporting - the evaluator might have very different political leanings. Now put all these documents, for each letter to be written to a different college, in a nice clean manila folder.

Talk to the Teacher or Professor

Now go see your teacher/professor during their office hours, making an appointment and showing up on time, is even better (don't approach the teacher during class and don't stop them in the hallway). Sit down, be pleasant, be gracious, and be polite; after all, you are asking for a favor.

Explain that you are applying to colleges and that you hope they will be willing to write you a recommendation letter. Tell them when the deadline is and show them all the information in the folder. Say thank you.

If and when you get accepted into a college or program, tell your teacher or professor about it and say thank you again; thank you in a letter is even better; sending a copy of your thank you letter to their dean or vice president is much better and will be greatly appreciated.

Teachers and professors often need letters and recommendations, too; those sorts of things can mean the difference between a tiny raise and a decent raise. You are asking for help, so be helpful in return.

Always have several teachers or professors in mind that you can ask for a letter, just in case someone says no. Teachers usually say no for one of three reasons: (1) they don't really know you or your work, (2) they don't believe they can write a positive or supportive letter, or (2) they are very busy and you have waited until the last moment and they cannot get it done in time.


When a Professor Says No

If a teacher or professor says no, or is extremely reluctant to say yes, don't push it - just say thank you and walk away. You wouldn't get a good letter from them and a bad or weak letter is worse than no letter at all. It tells the admissions committee two things: the teacher didn't like you or thought you did poor work, and you were not smart enough to know who to ask for a decent recommendation.

Generally, we like writing letters for good students, whom we know well. We want to help you; we want you to do well and get accepted by a good school. But teaching faculty often have many obligations in addition to teaching that you may not be aware of. We serve on multiple committees, task forces, and councils which have meetings all the time.

Often we serve as the chair of, or report writer for, several committees. Some of us are school deans, program coordinators, department chairs, or division directors, etc., and carry a lot of additional duties. Last, but certainly not least, there are professional research and writing projects and papers, which are the pathway to possible promotion for us.

Asking for assistance well in advance of the admission deadlines is crucial and is much more likely to result in a favorable response, and a very good recommendation. Hopefully, if all goes well, more than one institution will accept you and you will have a happy choice to make.


Give Yourself Every Advantage

As a general rule, students who take the SAT, GRE, or LSAT during the summer, rather than during the school semester, do a better job studying and preparing, therefore, earning higher scores. The higher your scores, the broader your choice of colleges and universities.


Selecting a College: Start Early and Be Well Organized

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Comments - University or College: The Recommendation Letters 16 comments

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

Phdast this is such a practical guide designed for parents and students who want inside information on the letter writing process. I like the fact it offers advice to those who actually need it.. this can be a complete companion for college bound students.. useful


Drtruthman profile image

Drtruthman 4 years ago from Harlingen, Texas

Excellent Hub. Oh how it takes me back both trying to get into college and grad school as well as getting 2 of my 4 kids there and they went to my Alma mater. But it was still a chore. This was a great advice piece and I appreciated the time you went to in writing this. I voted UP all across except for funny. Loved the photos. Lee


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi Frank - Thank you so much. I did try very hard to be practical and specific so that students could get a handle on the letter-writing process before a college appplication deadline is looming over them. I appreciate your comments as always. :)


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi Lee - I appreciate you stopping by and your comments, of course. Getting all the paperwork and letters organized was a chore for me when I was trying to get into graduate school and I only applied to one university!! Now, I am the one writing all the letters. :) So I wrote the Hub from long experience. :) Theresa


Sueswan 4 years ago

Hi Theresa,

Invaluable information presented in a clear and concise manner.

Voted up and interesting.

Have a good weekend. :)


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi Sue - Thank you for your encouraging comments. I write these letters all the time; I am part of this process and it just seemed to make sense to try and lay it all out. :)

You have a great weekend as well. Theresa


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

Great hub! I am frequently asked to write letters of recommendation for voice students--and am usually happy to do so--but I always advise students to ask a prospective teacher whether the teacher is willing to write a positive letter when asking for letters of recommendation.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you Audrey. You are so right...students should not assume anything they should directly ask their teachers if they are willing and "able" to write a positive recommendation. Very good point. :)


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

Great hub! Just have to say it again! And sharing!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

Excellent tips Phdast7! I worked in College Admissions for many, many years. These tips are fabulous! It is always wise for students to check in with prospective colleges they are considering and find out when all the important deadlines are- especially scholarship deadlines. I found it very sad that so many high school counselors caused students to loose out on scholarship money by sending transcripts and information late. Students should hand deliver everything and never rely on the school staff to meet these important deadlines. Really great ideas!


Kristine Manley profile image

Kristine Manley 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Wonderful information. I will be sharing this Hub. Voted Up!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you Kristine. Hopefully, if we get the word, there will be unprepared and disappointed students.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Tammy - Glad you thought they were useful tips. Thanks for your positive comments. I really appreciate them. :) From working in College Admissions I bet you have seen everything. It is sad when students miss deadlines or leave out a crucial form or piece of information. I agree with you, it all ought to be hand delivered...I didn't even think to mention that in the Hub.


shalini sharan profile image

shalini sharan 4 years ago from Delhi

very informative hub mam

thank you for sharing


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

You are very welcome - glad it was helpful. And thank you for the lovely fan mail. Welcome to HubPages. We are glad you have joined us. :)


shalini sharan profile image

shalini sharan 4 years ago from Delhi

it is entirely my pleasure mam, you are really kind :)

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