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Asking Teachers for Recommendation Letters—2021 Edition

As spring is upon us and the end of the school year is within reach, my attention shifts to high school juniors. One of the first big steps of the college admissions process is asking teachers for recommendation letters.

Spring is the perfect time to ask your favorite teachers for a favor. But what if you have been virtual all-year long or you simply have had limited interaction with teachers since the pandemic started?

Here is what you need to know about choosing teachers for letters of recommendation one year into a pandemic:

1. Check some of the admissions websites for the colleges on your list to find out if and how many teacher recommendation letters are required.

Most selective colleges will ask for at least one recommendation letter from a core teacher and many will ask for two!

2. Junior year teachers tend to be the most popular teachers to ask for letters of recommendation, but that might not be ideal this year. 

If you have not been able to connect with any junior year teachers due to virtual learning or simply because of social distancing, colleges should be understanding with students asking teachers from other grades.

Related Reading: The Pitfalls of the Brag Sheet (and How to Avoid Them)

3. Several highly selective colleges have started indicating that senior year teachers are fine to ask for recommendation letters, but it's not that simple!

If you have never had that teacher until senior year and you are applying to an Early Decision program or any Early Action programs, the teacher will have to write a letter after only knowing you for a few weeks of senior year. Most high schools require teachers who are writing letters of recommendation to submit their letters in early fall, which doesn't give them a lot of time to observe you in and out of class.

4. Sophomore year teachers are a good choice, especially for the Class of 2022.

While last year's school year was far from ideal, at least students had in-person classes for three quarters of the year. Teachers from sophomore year got to see students in action. They may know the students they had last year even better than this year.

5. Remember to focus on asking teachers who taught you in core subjects: English, math, science, history, and foreign language.

These are the teachers that colleges want to hear from the most and these teachers are much more experienced in writing letters of recommendation than other individuals.
As high school juniors take stock of their academic experience thus far, I encourage them to think of the highlights they have had, especially in 10th and 11th grade. The teachers that gave you the strongest grades, who complimented you, and clearly root for you, will be the best letter-writers you could ask for. Choose wisely. In this new landscape where many colleges are implementing a test optional policy, letters of recommendation mean more than they ever did.