How to Ensure Your Teachers Write Your College Recommendations

By on May 24, 2011

This post was written by Theo Buchsbaum, Acceptional’s student representative at Columbia. In this post, Theo discusses and gives some advice on how to approach the sometimes tricky territory of approaching teachers to ask for recommendations for your college applications.

While there are your statistics (GPA, SAT scores, etc.) and your essay(s), another component that helps admissions offices at the colleges on your list get to know you is your recommendation. Recommendations are very important because they show who you are in the classroom—an aspect that is not shown through your scores and other statistics. They show your level of intellectual vitality and the effort you put into the course through references to participation, specific work done, and overall standing in the class, along with many other comments about you as a student.

Teachers enjoy writing recommendations for students who show interest in their class. However, sometimes teachers do not feel that they are suited to write a student’s recommendation. There certainly are times in which a teacher will decline the request of a student to write a recommendation for them. The teacher may simply feel that he/she 1. does not know the student well enough or 2. will not write a recommendation that will help the student’s application because the student did not leave a good enough impression. You should really try to think about whom you will ask for a teacher recommendation. However, don’t make it too public because a teacher surely doesn’t want to know that they were the fifth person you asked for a recommendation!

In order to get to the “Absolutely, it would be my pleasure to write a recommendation for you,” you must develop a good relationship with these teachers you would like to ask. Here are some ways, amongst many, to develop a good relationship with your teacher:

1. Contribute meaningful comments to class.

  • Quality over quantity. Frequency does not matter as much as significance to class discussion. If you contribute only once or twice a class, but those comments really spur the discussion forward or spark the discussion to a related, teacher-approved route, then the quality of your one or two comments will be much more memorable to your teacher than the fact that you didn’t contribute 5 million times like some of the jabber-mouths in your class.

2. Visit your teacher during their office hours.

  • Whether it is to seek extra help or just to discuss further the topics from class that day or week, showing your intellectual vitality and making the effort to speak with your teachers will certainly gain you a great relationship with your teachers.

3. Hand in your homework and arrive to class on time.

  • This step references the “impression left on your teacher” bit of the post. If you consistently hand in your homework or major papers late, or arrive to class tardy without a proper excuse, those are the characteristics by which your teacher will remember you. You want your teacher to think highly of you when they write your recommendation. Small things do matter and you should definitely start there.

Check back in one week (next Tuesday) for the final part of this post and information on recommendation etiquette!

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