Every high school senior has gone through it. Awkwardly packing up your things after class in the slowest way possible, telling your friends no, no it’s fine, just go on without me, waiting until the room takes FOREVER to empty out, and then finally forcing your legs to start their way over to your teacher’s desk. Or, maybe not everyone’s experience was this painful, maybe I’m just an awkward person. But I still believe that asking for a recommendation letter is not something most high school students look forward to. The opportunity never seems to quite present itself naturally: “Hey Mrs. Watson, I had a question about number four on this worksheet, and also while we’re on the subject, do you mind evaluating my character and integrity as a human being and playing a major role in determining where I spend the next four years of my life?”
Unfortunately, almost every college application requires you to submit at least one, if not two to three, letters of recommendation from teachers or faculty members. So, not only will you have to go through this excruciating process once, you may have to endure the painful awkwardness multiple times. However, this process doesn’t have to be quite as daunting as it seems, and there are things you can do to ease the burden on both yourself and the lucky teacher(s) of your choice.
- Keep recommendations in the back of your head with every class you take during high school.
This may seem a bit extreme, as you could take as many as sixty different classes before you finish your high school experience. And, odds are that you won’t be asking for recommendations from teachers of the classes you take as a freshman, since colleges generally prefer teachers you’ve encountered within the year preceding your application. However, teachers do talk amongst themselves; so don’t think that that horrible comment you didn’t think your freshman year English teacher heard hasn’t made its way through the entire English department. Also, you never know which teachers you will encounter again in a higher-level class, so never underestimate the power of leaving a good impression.
- Determine which teachers you ask by your relationship with them, not the subject they teach.
College applications will generally ask for a teacher of an upper level class, but outside of that, you should really base your decision off of which teachers know you the best and can truly communicate your qualifications and classroom demeanor. You’re far better off getting a recommendation from that teacher of your generic English course who you chat with about your favorite authors than from that teacher of your super impressive astrophysics class who only knows your name and test grades.
- Ask early
The good part about asking for a recommendation is that teachers are used to it; almost every college requires one. The bad part? Almost every college requires one. Every other student in your grade is competing for the same few teachers, so certain teachers (and usually the better ones) get tons of requests. Some teachers even impose limits of how many they will write in a certain year, so it’s first come first served. Not only is it a courtesy to allow them more time to write, but asking early will leave you with a more thorough and well-thought-out out letter from your top choice of teachers.
- Follow up
Teachers are busy people, and like I mentioned, they could be writing a lot of other recommendations. So it is certainly worthwhile to check in with them every so often after you ask and before the recommendation deadline. These follow-ups are also a great way to keep your recommenders updated on your life (what you are doing both inside and outside of the classroom, which colleges you are most interested in) which in turn can help them write a better, more personal letter for you.
- Say thank you
Writing college recommendations is not a requirement for teachers, so every minute they spend on your letter is a minute they’re taking out of their free time to help you. Composing an entire page on a student you had for one semester is no easy task, and the best teachers will put a lot of time and effort into their work. So, when it’s all over and you’ve turned in your applications, make sure you thank them appropriately. You don’t have to buy them an expensive gift or make some grand gesture, but a handwritten thank-you note along with occasional updates on which schools you hear back from will go a long way.
Overall, asking for college recommendation letters can seem like an intimidating task, but it’s a necessary step in the college application process. Just remember, teachers are used to these requests, and everyone else has to make them too, so you might as well make your requests in the right way so you end up with shining recommendations from the teachers who know you the best.