Letters of recommendation are one of the few pieces of a college application that applicants don’t develop directly. Complementary to the rest of the application, these insights from your teachers provide further support for what you’ve shared about yourself and supply additional context around who you are as a student and classmate. Consider these tips as you begin thinking about requesting your recommendations.  

1. give advanced notice.

Before considering who to ask, build a timeline to ensure your teachers will have ample opportunity to write their letters. These recommendations are meant to provide the admissions committee with insight into who you are from a perspective other than your own, so you don’t want them to be rushed. Giving your recommenders adequate time will allow them to craft letters that are thoughtful and effective. Reach out to your teachers at the start of your senior year to give them time to balance your request with their other responsibilities.  

2. start with more, then narrow your list.

Your favorite teacher is your favorite for a reason—and it might be common for others to feel the same. Popular instructors won’t always have time to write letters for all their students (as much as they’d like to!), so make sure to have some backups ready in case your preferred recommenders aren’t available.

3. Prioritize those who know you best.

The most compelling letters come from recommenders who know you well regardless of what subject they teach. Perhaps you’ve bonded with them through classroom discussions or you’ve spent extra time working through problems with them outside of class (course-related or otherwise). These teachers can speak to your academic character, intellectual curiosity, and collaborative spirit.

If possible, consider teachers who know you in multiple capacities. For example, choose one who not only taught you in class but also advises a club you lead or coaches a team you’re on. These individuals can not only speak to your academic character but can also provide firsthand insight into your involvement in your community.

4. consider your own growth.

You evolve throughout high school, so a teacher you had in your first year may not be as well acquainted with the current version of you. In general, it’s best for your recommenders to be from a class you took as a junior or senior. If you’ve taken more than one class with a teacher over the years—even better! They can speak to how they’ve seen you develop as a person and a scholar.

5. demonstrate your passions.

Although strong relationships should be the priority when choosing your recommenders, it’s helpful for the admissions committee to learn about your experience with topics you’re particularly passionate about. At least one of your letters should come from an instructor of one of your favorite subjects. 

If you’re an activist at heart or love to write, consider asking an English or social studies teacher to write you a letter. If you’re fascinated by data or how things work, talk to a science or math teacher. These are often the courses in which you thrive most, so these teachers can truly highlight your strengths.

6. Don’t be afraid to “brag.”

Even teachers you’re close to are not always aware of your varied interests, aspirations, accomplishments, and personal context. To help them emphasize what you’ll bring to a campus community, provide a “brag sheet” with details about your passions, involvements, and what you’re most proud of. If you can, schedule a meeting with your teacher to discuss these highlights so they can prepare a robust recommendation. 

Keep in mind:

There is no “one size fits all.” While these guidelines are helpful as a general rule of thumb, everyone’s situation is different. Perhaps you are closest with a teacher who taught you in 9th grade—it’s ok to ask them for a recommendation!  

Your high school counselor can also be an excellent resource for guidance about recommendation letters and other components of the college application. Stay in touch with them throughout your process to ensure you’re completing all the necessary steps, and contact your regional admissions counselor if you have any further questions.