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Need Teacher Recommendation Letters? Here's How to Get Them

Spring is the perfect time for high school juniors to take stock and identify which teachers they should ask for the all-important college recommendation letters.

Some students wonder why they need to think about this task now when college applications aren’t due until senior year. But securing recommendation letters before the end of the school year is crucial if a student wants to get their favorite teachers to write for them.

Here are three easy steps to impress the most sought after teachers:
Step 1: Identify two academic teachers from 10th or 11th grade.

Most selective colleges want to hear from math, science, history, English, or foreign language teachers that the student had for a full year or term prior to senior year. These teachers are used to writing letters of recommendation for college-bound students.

BONUS: Can teachers really help you get into college?

Students should consider asking teachers for whom they have done their best work and have shown their best self. Getting an A in the course shouldn’t be the only reason behind a student’s choice. Teachers write the best letters for students who significantly contribute to the classroom environment and/or speak regularly with the teacher about the subject matter, school in general, or what they're interested in pursuing in the future.

Step 2: Send the opt-in or opt-out email.

One of the biggest reasons for lukewarm or negative letters of recommendation is that the teacher is asked on the spot if they will write for the student. This gives them very little room to opt-out if they know they can’t write a positive letter.

But if a student sends an initial email explaining that they would like to request a time to speak with them about writing a college recommendation letter, the teacher has an opening to opt-in or opt-out over email. As tough as it is for a student to hear back from a teacher over email that they can’t write for them, this is a better option than having a teacher feel forced to say “yes” because they are caught off guard by the impromptu request. That being said, teachers typically will be happy to write for most students.

The opt-in or opt-out email can be fairly short. The student just needs to request a meeting time and briefly describe why. For example, the student can write something like this:

Dear Mrs. Jones,

I wanted to know if we could find a time to meet to discuss my college recommendation letters. I am hoping to ask you for a letter of recommendation. I am free everyday during lunch or 8th period. Let me know if it’s possible for us to meet in person.

Many thanks,
Sara Harberson

Step 3: The meeting.

A face-to-face meeting between the student and the teacher yields the best results. This allows the student to show their favorite teachers how serious they are about this process. Students should come prepared to formally ask for a letter of recommendation, the reasons why they chose the teacher, and anything they know about the types of programs/colleges they are interested in. Showing respect for the process and the teacher leads to a strong and positive letter of recommendation.

"Juniors, don't wait until #senioryear to ask your teachers for recommendation letters" TWEET THIS

Final Thoughts

Many teachers write letters of recommendation over the summer when they have more time to devote to this. Waiting until the fall of senior year might be too late, especially if the student plans to ask the more popular teachers. But it’s not just about timing when it comes to the “ask.”

Students need to approach this seriously in order to get the strongest letters. Students don’t get to see their recommendation letters so they should do everything in their power to ensure that they are impressing their teachers every step of the way.