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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Requesting Teacher Recommendations

As junior year chugs along, Recommendation Request Season draws near. This is the time of year when teachers, not typically accustomed to students seeking them out between classes, find many stopping by with growing frequency and a shy “ask” in their eye. The sought-after payoff: “Yes, I would be delighted to write a college recommendation for you.”

For students who feel confident in their classroom performance and hold rapport with their teacher, requesting a recommendation may feel natural. For those students who have not yet made a strong connection with a teacher, there is still an opportunity to consider what they have gained from their classes and how it connects to their interests, whether present or future.

How Many Recs Are Needed?

Colleges vary in the number of recommendations they welcome. There is a surprising range of policies around this aspect of the college application, spanning as few as one optional recommendation from a school counselor to schools that will allow five or more from a variety of sources. Within the scope of recommendations, schools commonly request 1- 2 recommendations from teachers in academic “solid” classes rather than electives or arts classes. Additional outside recommendations may come from employers; coaches; volunteer coordinators — anyone who has known the student in a context that allows comments based on personal qualities such as leadership; maturity; impact; character; and more.

When to Ask

Asking early, before the end of junior year or early senior year, rather than up against last-minute deadlines demonstrates maturity as well as proper appreciation of the writer’s time and effort. May or June is a great time to approach teachers, when junior year progress is fresh in the teacher’s mind and the student still has time to boost engagement in the classroom.

What A Good Rec Sounds Like

It may be surprising to learn that a solid recommendation does not necessarily need to stem from the student’s highest performing class. Qualities in evidence may include engagement; work ethic, contribution to the class’s learning; attitude and drive. Student’s do not necessarily have to earn an A+ to demonstrate these strengths!

How to Ask

Whenever possible, requesting teacher recommendations is best done in person.

While it seems obvious, students should make a point to thank the teacher who has agreed to write on their behalf.  Students may follow up or thank a recommender in person, via email or — another personal gesture — through a handwritten note.

Perspective and Paying It Forward

While students sometimes agonize over whom to ask and what that teacher may say in his rec, keep in mind that colleges review applications in their entirety and recommendations are one corner of the multi-piece puzzle. Students: Be sure to thank Mr. Morgan for his time now — and check back in later during senior year to let him know where you’ll be headed next fall. This way, you’ll come back full circle, letting your recommenders know that their hard work has paid off, setting the stage for the next group of juniors behind you.

Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC.  Contact Marla via

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