Preparing for College

Should 9th-Grade Teacher Rec be an Extra?

Question: My retired freshman year global history teacher offered to write me a college recommendation. She also happened to be my unofficial counselor for a competition for all of my junior year. If she does write me a recommendation, does she take up one of the two necessary teacher recs or does her rec act as the one additional rec you can add? I'm also hesitant to get a rec from her because I've been told that recs from teachers from your junior year are best. However, I feel that she knows me extremely well. Would it be OK to get a rec from her?

If you decide to get a recommendation from this teacher, you should use it as a supplemental one. Colleges will definitely be more interested in official references from teachers who taught you in your junior or senior year. Although this retired teacher may know you better than any others, admission folks may feel that her rec doesn't carry sufficient firepower because she only taught you when you were a freshman.

Although your official teacher references are supposed to be confidential, your extra ones need not be. So you might want to ask this retired teacher to give her finished reference letter to you rather than to send it directly to your target colleges. This way, you can preview it first. Surely it will be a favorable one. She wouldn't have offered to write on your behalf only to say that you're a lazy dimwit ;-). However, sometimes even positive references can work against the applicant (especially those students who are applying to the most selective schools) if these letters are merely complimentary but not effusive and if they just offer a string of flattering adjectives ("responsible," "conscientious") and not some anecdotes to support the praise. At the hyper-competitive colleges, unless your recommender makes you sound like you're one in a million, then the extra rec isn't helpful--or necessary--at all.

But if this teacher's letter shows a side of you that you suspect the others won't and makes you stand out in a crowd, then it may indeed be wise to send it as an extra.