How to Get a Great Letter of Recommendation
One of the biggest challenges for high school seniors applying for college is getting their teachers to write letters recommendation.
How can you get a meaningful and personal recommendation?
Well, first, let’s discuss why recommendations from teachers and guidance counselors are important.
Why Recommendations Matter
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, letters of recommendation have proven to be extremely important in the application process. Colleges want students who will enrich the campus environment. Recommendation letters are the most direct way for admissions committees to determine how a student is in the classroom. This goes beyond numbers and GPAs. Recommendation letters speak to the student’s character and compatibility with the school.
To be fair, there are very few teachers or counselors who would write a blatantly bad recommendation letter. Plus most students know not to ask teachers with whom they have conflict. However, submitting a bland recommendation letter is about as helpful as not submitting one at all. After all, you want to be memorable to the admissions office, not just pass as average.
Recommendation letters often go hand-in-hand with student GPAs. The brightest students may have less than perfect GPAs. This usually signifies a less-than-great relationship with teachers and/or counselors. So recommendation letters are windows into the very deeply-rooted aspects of a student’s performance.
Which brings us back to our first question: How can you get a meaningful recommendation letter?
Whom You Should Ask
Before getting into the how, we need to discuss the who. Whom should you ask and whom should you not ask for recommendation letters?
You should ask teachers who you think know you best.
What teachers do you have a good relationship with? Whom have you had more than one class with? Whom did you go to for extra help or to ask for advice about things outside of the classroom?
Generally, you will need 1-2 recommendation letters, so it’s a good idea to ask one science or math teacher and one humanities teacher. The combination of the two letters gives a more holistic image of who you are as a student.
You also want to ask for recommendation letters from teachers who taught the classes in which you did well. If you got a B in physics, but an A in AP Calculus, it just makes sense to ask your AP Calculus teacher for a recommendation letter, as this teacher will have more to say about your achievements in the classroom.
You should not ask for recommendation letters from teachers who taught classes you did not enjoy or do well in.
Naturally, if you enjoyed a class, you probably participated more and showed more active engagement. For most students, if they do not enjoy a class, it is directly represented by an unsatisfactory grade.
Of course, there are exceptions. If you did not enjoy the class but made an immense effort to do well, reached out to your teacher frequently, and showed diligence and engagement in class, then it is definitely worth considering asking that teacher for a recommendation letter.
Now, back again to our first question: how?
Below are some tips for succeeding in the classroom while also obtaining that memorable letter of recommendation:
Tip #1. Office Hours
Go to office hours as often as you can, and ask thoughtful questions.
Tip #2. Ask for Help
If a lesson or concept is difficult for you, as it is for many students, ask your favorite teachers for advice and for extra help.
Tip #3. Make a good impression
Show active engagement in the classroom, and make sure to participate as much as possible. Make sure to show that you are fully engaged during the entire class time.
Tip #4. Communicate
Email your teachers with questions you have outside of the class time.
Tip #5. Go Beyond the Classroom
For the classes you especially enjoy, ask your teachers for suggestions on opportunities to learn that topic outside of the classroom (i.e. extracurricular activities).
Tip #6. Demonstrate humility and vulnerability
Even if the class is easy for you, if you approach it with the mentality that you have much more to learn, your teachers will realize this right away. Teachers catch on to hubris and lack of humility very quickly, and this is not the impression that you want to make.
Altogether, show that you are hungry for learning! Teachers naturally want to give more to those students who are receptive to their teaching and want to learn more.
Want more tips?
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