Juniors, we get it. AP exams are over, prom already happened, the weather is finally getting nicer and you’re just itching to get out of school for the summer. But wait! There’s something you should do before you leave school for the summer: Ask your teachers to write you a letter of recommendation for your college application.
How many teachers should I ask?
Well that depends on how many recommendations are required by the colleges on your list. Check online. If two recommendations are required, you’ll need to ask at least two teachers. If you’re not quite sure yet where you want to apply, getting two recommendations is a safe bet. Usually, if more than two are required, the additional recommendations can be from someone other than a teacher.
Who Should I Ask?
First, consider the purpose of the recommendation. Recommendations (and your personal essays) help an admission committee understand what kind of person you apart from the numerical aspects of your application (grades and standardized test scores). You’ll want to pick a teacher who knows you relatively well, someone you’ve spent time chatting with after school or maybe had as a teacher for more than one class. And, it’s best to pick a teacher who has seen some of your best work. You’re not going to want to ask the math teacher who gave you the D in Algebra or a teacher you haven’t talked with since you had him for Freshmen English.
When choosing who to ask, think about the following:
- Is there a teacher who has seen you struggle, persevere and ultimately be successful? Teachers like this have a lot of material to draw from and can write about your resilience.
- If you know what you plan to study in college, is there a teacher who can write about your passion or interest in that subject? For example, if you plan to be pre-med and have taken lots of science classes, consider asking a science teacher.
- Is there a teacher who has seen you excel outside the classroom as well, such as an English teacher who is involved with an extracurricular activity of yours such as editing the yearbook or the school newspaper?
Your goal should be to identify teachers who know you well and have something significant to say about who you are and why a college should want you as a student.
As a general guideline, ask teachers you’ve had during your junior year as they will remember you best and know your aptitude for advanced work. That said, if there’s a teacher you had earlier in high school who you’ve remained close with, then it would be fine to ask them for a recommendation.
Why Should I Ask Now?
Great question, especially considering applications aren’t due until the fall/winter. Indeed, many students don’t ask until September. Asking before you leave for the summer is a good idea for several reasons.
Most importantly, teachers are busy, especially in the beginning of the year! Asking them early ensures that they’ll have time to write a thoughtful recommendation. They are likely to be bombarded with requests when everyone returns in the fall.
Another reason is that you’ll be fresh on the teacher’s mind. Don’t give a teacher all summer to forget what made you stand out in their class!
Finally, some teachers cap the number of recommendations they’ll write each year. This is especially true in larger schools. Asking early will help you avoid this.
How Should I Ask?
Politely, directly, and in person. Keep it simple, something along the lines of “I really enjoyed being in your class last semester. I was wondering if you would be willing to write me a recommendation?”
The teacher might ask you what you want them to write about and what types of schools you are targeting, so be prepared with an answer.
Remember, teachers are not required to say yes. If a teacher agrees to write you a recommendation, be polite and grateful. If they seem hesitant or say no outright, be gracious and ask another teacher.
Follow Up and Say Thank You
If you have a way to communicate with your teachers over the summer, send a follow up email thanking them for taking the time to write your recommendation. It’s a nice way to send a subtle reminder. If you don’t, remember to check in with them, once school starts in the fall, see where things stand. It’s also a great time to tell them where you are planning to apply as, chances are, you’ll know by then!
Once they’ve finished, be sure to thank them! A thank you is always appreciated (and if you want to do something a little extra to thank them, handwritten notes and gift cards are too). And follow up once you know where you are going to let them know of your success.
Now, What’s on Your Plate for the Summer
Don’t think that you are off the hook once you’ve lined up teachers to write your recommendations. You’ve got some things to do this summer as well. Finalize your list of target schools, start the Common App, and get those essays going! And, if you still need to boost your SAT or ACT scores, summer is THE time to prep. If you need help getting started on your game plan, chat with one of our expert test prep advisors!