Preparing for College

Extra Teacher Recommendations: What Form Do I Use?

Question: Many colleges ask for two recommendations from academic teachers. If a student asks a third, non-academic teacher (drama, for example) for a recommendation, should it be written on an official "teacher rec" form, or should the teacher write his or her own letter?

The teacher does not need to use an official college form, and, in fact, it’s often better if he or she doesn’t. That way, this supplemental recommendation won’t be confused with the official ones from your academic-subject teachers.

While it’s tough to tell someone what to say in a letter of reference, keep in mind that the most successful ones are those that stress qualities that set you apart from other students. For instance, a drama teacher’s letter that says, “Matilda is an excellent actor and a young woman of great integrity,” would not have as much impact as one that proclaims, “Matilda is among the very best actors I’ve worked with in more than two decades,” or “Matilda has the very rare ability to convincingly play the widest range of roles I’ve ever seen in a student actor,” or “Matilda was the only sophomore I’ve asked to serve as student directorâ€"a job usually reserved for seniors.”

When you ask a teacher for a recommendation, it’s helpful to provide a stamped, addressed envelope (unless the reference is coming back to you, which is okay for non-required ones) along with a short cover note. In the cover note, it’s a good idea to remind the teacherâ€" regardless of how well this teacher knows youâ€"of some of your achievements and other high points in his or her class or activity. You can also use the cover note to say something like, “I am told that the references that carry the most weight are those that illustrate the area or areas in which a student truly stands out or surpasses her peers. If you feel that this is true of me in any way, I would appreciate it if you would include it in your letter.”

Make sure you thank all teachers who write references for you. A nice touch is to tell them where you’ve been admitted when all of this admission frenzy is behind you and to again say thanks for their role in your acceptances.