By: Marilyn Emerson
As the end of junior year approaches it’s important for students to start thinking about which teachers they want to ask to write their college recommendation letters. The right letter paints a picture of your child from another point of view, showing as Marilyn Emerson of Emerson Educational Consulting states that they are “more than a transcript and a standardized test score.” Here Marilyn, a well-recognized admissions expert, shares her tips on how to decide which teachers you should reach out to.
If you’re about to be a senior, then you’ll need to start thinking about letters of recommendation. Most importantly– which teachers will you ask to write them? You’ll want to choose carefully.
Here are four things to think about when choosing a teacher:
1. Choose teachers who can say something new.
Each recommendation writer should have something different to say about you. The Common Application, for example, requires two letters of recommendation from teachers. If both of them say basically the same thing, then you’re giving up an opportunity to add more depth to your application.
Here are some ideas:
- Choose one teacher who often assigns group projects and can comment positively on your ability to work with others. Then, choose another teacher who assigns difficult individual projects.
- Choose one teacher who can comment on your academics. Then, choose another who knows about your family life extracurricular commitments.
2. Choose teachers who can speak about your intellectual curiosity.
Nearly every recommendation claims that it is for a “good student,” but not every recommendation discusses the student as an individual.
You want the admission committee reading your application to know what makes you different from the other students at your high school:
- How do you deal with stress?
- How do you learn best?
- What makes you a good addition to the classroom?
The best recommendations do this by recounting anecdotes about you– like how you helped another student study for the exam or completed bonus homework assignments even though you were swamped with extracurriculars.
3. Don’t choose your recommenders based on your grades.
It’s not always best to choose the teacher of the class where you received your best grade. In fact, sometime the best recommender is the teacher who gave you the worst grade!
When choosing your recommender, ask yourself:
- Which teachers really understand me?
- Which teachers have seen me work hard in their classes?
Teachers who can talk about your perseverance and your individuality will also be able to write more effective letters.
4. Choose teachers who are willing to take in additional information.
Most teachers write hundreds of recommendation letters throughout their career. However, if your teacher is willing to listen to you about where you are applying and why, you’ll likely get a much better letter.
Here are two ways to do this:
- Ask your teacher to sit down with you– even just for 5 or 10 minutes– to discuss your application and your motivations.
- Give your teacher a one-page resume that details your activities (in school and outside of school), your leadership abilities and your hobbies. It should also include what you liked best about that teacher’s class.
This additional information– whether from your resume, a quick chat, or both– will help the teacher to write a stronger letter. It may also indicate to the teacher that you take this seriously and appreciate the time and effort that they are devoting to writing your letter.
Remember to research the letter of recommendation requirements for the colleges you are applying to well in advance. Some applications require one recommendation– others require two, and still others require none. Sometimes, colleges prefer that you choose teachers from core academic subjects. By carefully reading the application instructions for each college you are applying to, you can make sure to be prepared.
** As a recognized expert in the field of educational consulting, Marilyn Emerson presents workshops all over the world on the college application process. She has taught university classes about college and graduate school admissions consulting. Marilyn has contributed as an expert to several publications, including The New York Times, Fox Business, Time, Businessweek, Newsweek and USA Today. She has also appeared on Fox News. As a former president of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), she is highly involved with IECA activities.