In part 2 of our discussion on letters of recommendation, we cover the key elements of teacher relationship-building that begin as early as your freshman year of high school.
How do I build a strong relationship with my teachers?
Good relationships, whether with a friend or a teacher, take time to build. This means that from the moment you enter high school, you should be on the lookout for relationship building opportunities with your teachers — even the ones you think you’d never ask for a letter (you never know what your situation might be four years down the line!)
The most important advice we can give is to be genuine. Most teachers have been working with students for many years, and can easily detect a student whose sole intent is to obtain a positive recommendation. At the end of the day, your teachers are academic resources but they are also people who hold a wealth of knowledge on topics beyond their subject area.
In addition to being an active participant in class discussions and asking questions about the course material, make use of your time during lunch or after school to talk to your teachers. Some teachers also open their classrooms to students during inclement weather days, which is another great opportunity. You might ask your teachers about how they decided on a career in education, what their college application process was like and what they prioritized, and even what college and career recommendations they have for you based on your interests and strengths. You can also come to them for advice on life outside of class, from friendships to your home life (depending on how comfortable you feel with that teacher). Invariably, you and the teacher will discover shared interests, and these can be the basis for your conversations moving forward.
If you feel a connection with a teacher, don’t stop talking to them just because the school year is over! Every once in a while, stop by that teacher’s classroom to ask how they are doing and to give them an update on yourself. Teachers greatly appreciate students who remember them enough to keep coming back over the years — it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of education! On Teacher Appreciation Day, be sure to bring your teachers a small gift and a handwritten thank you card mentioning something you like about them or how they’ve helped/inspired you. These are small gestures, but teachers remember them.
In keeping with their increasingly holistic approach to admissions, colleges also require teachers to fill out a separate evaluation form that covers not only the student’s academic performance and potential but also important life and interpersonal skills such as reaction to setbacks and concern for others. The more you speak with your teachers, the more they’ll be able to observe your academic and personal maturation and the higher they’re likely to rate you in these categories.
When should I start asking my teachers for letters of recommendation?
Letters of recommendation take time to write, and teachers must balance this with the rest of their personal and professional responsibilities. As a result, they often put a cap on the number of students for whom they will write letters — and more popular teachers tend to reach this cap more quickly! We suggest talking to your desired teachers around May or June of your junior year to let them know that you would like them to write a letter on your behalf. Oftentimes, teachers will make a note of your request, but it is your responsibility to check in with them at the beginning of your senior year (typically August or September) to confirm that they will be writing you a letter. This is also the time to drop off any supplemental materials that they have requested, such as an up-to-date resume or a list of important points about you that they may want to include in their letter.
If your teacher is uploading their recommendation to the Common Application website, be sure to check the upload status often. If the application deadline is less than a month away and any of your teachers have not yet uploaded their letters, we suggest sending them a gentle reminder to ensure that everything is on track.
What should I do after receiving my letters?
Once each teacher has completed the submission process, it’s a good idea to bring them a thank-you card and a small gift to express your appreciation.
Obtaining letters of recommendation can be a challenging process to navigate, but our team of experts at the Admission Masters is here to answer any questions you have.