Preparing for college academically is one of the most important aspects of high school, and your teachers are people who know about your academic performance, intellectual curiosity, work ethic and ambition the best. All of these factors play into a determination of what kind of student you will be in college, which is why recommendation letters from teachers are one of the most important parts of the college application.
Asking a teacher for a college recommendation letter might make you a little bit anxious, but there is no need to worry -- teachers are used to helping students with college recommendation letters.
Here are some tips to make asking a teacher for a recommendation letter go as smoothly as possible:
1. Ask a teacher who knows your academic ability well. It may seem obvious, but your best bet is to ask a teacher who has consistently given you good grades and who has seen you participate in class. If a teacher can’t recall how you act in class or the grades you received, it will be more difficult to write a recommendation letter.
2. If you have any extracurricular activities that a teacher chairs, that teacher probably knows you on a more personal level to discuss your leadership abilities and drive outside of just the classroom. So if you are on the student council, band, chorus, drama club or a sports team, consider asking the teacher you interact with during those extracurricular activities for a recommendation.
3. Ask in advance. When asking a teacher for a recommendation, make sure to give plenty of notice. Many students ask teachers for recommendations, so you want to make sure they have plenty of time to write a thoughtful letter about you rather than just trying to hurry up and get it done. You want the letter to be a powerful component in your college application, so teachers need plenty of time to write that information between their other duties.
4. When in doubt of who you should ask, consult your guidance counselor. If you are not sure which teacher would be the best person to approach to write a letter of recommendation for you, set up a meeting with your guidance counselor to gather ideas.
Know What to Say -- And When to Ask
How to ask for a letter of recommendation can be as important as when you ask.
"The most important thing students should do when asking for a letter of recommendation is to ask the teacher in person -- this is not a time to send an email, have your parent send an email to the teacher or have the school counselor intervene on your behalf,” advises Michael Salladino, director of college counseling at Garnet Valley High School in Glen Mills, Pa.
Sharon Bikoundou, assistant director of college planning at the American Heritage School in Plantation, Fla., advises that students ask teachers for recommendations near the end of their junior year.
"Don't wait until senior year, as many deadlines are as early as Oct. 15 or Nov. 1 -- asking in the fall of your senior year is a busy time for everyone, and the teacher may not have time to write something for you and may not know you well enough yet," says Bikoundou.
To help teachers craft your letters of recommendation, offer to share more information about yourself.
"Provide your instructor with a copy of your activity list or resume, and give them an idea of where you will be applying to college (if you already know),” Bikoundou says. “Also, be sure you ask teachers from core academic subjects like math, science, English, social studies or foreign language, because the majority of colleges in the country want to hear from the academic teachers in your life.”
Once the letters are written, be sure to drop off thank-you notes to the teachers -- and always update them when the colleges send you their decisions.