Application and Essay Tips

What to Do if A Teacher Recommendation Falls Through

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You're preparing to finalize your college applications, but you're still waiting for the final pieces of the puzzle — the teacher recommendation letters — to accompany your applications.

But what happens if a teacher recommendation doesn't arrive by the deadline, or the teachers decide they can’t complete your recommendations after all? It’s a tricky situation.


Consider Alternate Teachers

If the issue is just that your teachers can’t provide you the recommendations on the date you asked for them, ask if they can still complete the letters if they have a little more time. Hopefully, that will solve this dilemma.

However, if your teacher recommendation falls through entirely, that is a bit more difficult.

Think backwards — how did you ask the teacher for the recommendation? Was it off the cuff in the hallway with a conversation? Maybe the teacher didn't remember. Did you follow up and remind your teacher the date by which you needed the recommendation? Did you inform your teacher of your future college plans to help inspire the recommendation letter's contents?

Even if you asked all of these questions, a recommendation might still fall through, but remember these questions now, as you will need to approach another teacher to get a recommendation — and fast.

“If a student asked and/or reminded a teacher several times and there still is no letter, then they have to move on,” advises Bob Bardwell, director of school counseling at Monson High School in Monson, Pa.

To get another letter quickly, Bardwell recommends that the student ask for a recommendation from someone who knows him or her well, such as another teacher, clergy member, employer, club leader or community member, which could be the easiest and quickest fix. However, if the student needs an academic reference or, in particular, a letter from a specific department (e.g.,: math, English, science) then that may be harder to accomplish. It also could be a problem if a student had a teacher leave the school or retire.

“Obviously it’s not the student’s fault no one else is available to write a letter on his or her behalf,” says Bardwell. “If that is the case, I would be hard pressed to find any college who would penalize the student for trying to get a letter and not getting one or not having a teacher from a certain department be able to write a letter, as long as an explanation is provided.”

Of course, letters of recommendation are important, but they are not the most important part of a college application.

“Students and families need to understand that this would not be the kiss of death for admission purposes if the ‘right’ letter is not available,” explains Bardwell.

Therefore, your best bet is to check in with the teacher to find out the status of the rec letter, and if the teacher doesn't come through in time, find a substitute resource to get a letter by the deadline.