College Admissions Guidance

Blog posts about college admissions topics such as essays, extracurriculars,  planning, mental health, etc.

Teacher recommendations FAQs

application strategy senior year Sep 21, 2021
Letters of recommendation should portray your academic curiosity, strengths, and personality. Find recommenders who know you well, such as teachers who have taught you for more than one year. It’s best if they write powerful statements like, “He is one of the most insightful students I’ve seen in my 25 years of teaching” or “Her contributions in class discussions have made me re-evaluate my own views.” It may be helpful to offer the recommender your resume and/or some key points you’re hoping they capture in their letter. Don’t ask celebrities or other highly influential people for rec letters unless they genuinely know you well
Start with include a brief resume. This should have your ECs, academic stats, awards, and anything else that you're proud of or want to include (whether those are your interests that aren’t fully fleshed ECs, like reading, woodworking, fitness, etc. or any extenuating circumstances)

You also want to prepare a Q&A letter that will help your recommender truly personalize your rec. Here’s the gist of the questions.
  • “Is there anything specific you would like me to write about?” (If you want them to address something you find important, here is the place).
  • “Describe any important or relevant extracurriculars and what you’ve learned.” This is important because your teachers probably don’t have a great idea of what you do outside of class, and can use this information to talk about it in a more insightful way.
  • “Describe how you did in my class, as well as any challenges faced or obstacles overcome. If there is a single time that you felt like you excelled in the class, then describe it.” Reminder: your teacher probably teaches a lot of students. This is more to jog their memory so that they can specifically write YOUR letter (especially since you’ll probably be out of their class by the time they actually write it).
Sure, but we’re online right now. How do I actually ASK for a rec?
If your classes are still online, my personal recommendation would be to stay behind, and just ask like you would if you were in person. Ask if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you, and give them a couple of reasons why you think they would be a good fit--perhaps you two have a good relationship, or you’ve really been challenged by the class, etc.
You could also do it via email. 

"Hi Mr. Smith, I've really enjoyed your class and it's one of the reasons I want to major in Chemistry at MIT. I feel like you made it real and exciting and so much more than just an academic subject - it’s become a passion of mine. Would you be willing to write a recommendation letter for my college application?"
"Here's a resume for your reference. Just a heads up – I'm planning to apply to eight colleges and several scholarships as well, so I will probably be coming back to you for more copies in the next couple of months. Let me know if you have any questions. I really appreciate you doing this – at selective schools like MIT, a detailed and specific recommendation letter can make a big difference. Thanks again!
Okay, I asked for the rec and they said yes. Now what?
  • Let your recommenders know what colleges you are applying to, as well as the earliest deadline. It’s okay if you don’t have a full list, you can always update them later. The important part is that your teacher knows the latest by when they can get their recommendation in. Nowadays, however, most recommendation letters are done digitally, so the teacher only has to submit one copy and a system will automatically send it to every college. Every school is different: figure out what your school does.
  • Follow up with your recommender as the deadline gets closer. Ideally, your recommender will get it in much before the deadline, but following up ensures that you don’t stress if they submit it the day of or even late.
Do I need 1 STEM and 1 humanities rec?
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't matter much what subjects your recommenders teach. It may be a bit strange if you apply for a STEM major but only have humanities recs or vice versa, but in general, pick teachers with whom you have a good relationship. The only time where you should actively seek 1 STEM and 1 humanities rec is if a specific school asks for that.