Preparing for College

Recycling Teacher Recommendations

Question: If I apply to ten colleges, will I have to ask my teachers to write recommendations ten times or can they recycle them?

Of course your teachers can recycle your recommendations, and you should help your them to do this by providing them with the materials they’ll need at the time you request the references. Whenever possible, present your teachers with a complete list of colleges for which you’ll need their help, along with a stamped envelope addressed to each one. (Exceptions: A few colleges might want the reference placed in a sealed envelope and returned to you, so that you can submit it with your application. Some high schools ask for all references to be turned into the guidance office or another central spot.)

When you ask a teacher for a reference (and be sure to ask politely!), it’s also a nice idea to include a cover note that mentions several of the “highlights” of your time in that teacher’s class. (“You selected my sonnet for the school literary magazine” or “You asked me to read my paper on Jacksonian Democracy to the entire class.”) It’s fine to brag a bit here. Teachers know that you’re not telling them what to say, just offering some helpful memory boosters.

Some colleges will have their own teacher-reference forms while others require a letter. Often a teacher will complete the separate forms and then attach the more generic letter to the form. A few teachers even go out of their way to tailor a recommendation to each college on your list (“My nephew loved Kenyon, and I could easily see Ralphie loving it, too.)

By the way, if your teacher does not comply with a college’s form or format request, it will certainly not be held against you. Colleges are even used to getting teacher “recs” that erroneously mention another college’s name. While, obviously, that’s not an ideal situation, admission officials are not blind to the fact that candidates are applying to more than a single school.

Finally, once you have received your admission decisions, it’s a nice touch to again thank the teachers who recommended you and to tell them how you made out.