With college admissions comes the task of finding a teacher – or two or three – who will personally vouch for you in letters for the admissions committee to see.
The letters are requested not just to confirm that you’re not blatantly lying about who you are. But quite naturally, the college committee wants to find out about who you are beyond your grades and scores.
What do uninterested parties who have known you for a while think of you? Who is willing to speak on your behalf?
These are the questions the committee wants to be answered in the letter.
So, clearly, if you know a teacher you’re in the good books of, the better for you. Or maybe there’s an employer you really got along with at your part-time job…
It’s your job to go to the right person for a letter. And it’s okay to want to be seen in the best light on your reference.
What a Letter of Recommendation Looks Like
Here’s a sample letter of recommendation for you to read before we learn more about what makes a good letter of recommendation and how to ask for it.
1 ABC Street, Brown, AM 12345. 111-111-1111. [email protected]
January 10, 2020
QWE College Admissions Committee
321 Main Street.
ERT City, MA 12345
Dear QWE College Admissions Committee,
I have known Amy Doe for the past two years, having served both as her chemistry teacher and as her dramatics guide. I believe Amy will be an excellent addition to QWE College.
While a student at XYZ High School, Amy was always motivated and driven to challenge herself at academics. She participates actively in class and quickly grasps material. She has excellent written and verbal skills, charisma, and most importantly, the drive to improve herself. Early in her first year, illness picked up on a holiday in South America made her lose out quite a bit of time and brought her scores down. But in the second half, she worked doubly hard to make up and came out top of the class.
Amy sometimes helps me work with fresh young entrants into the school drama club. She has played lead roles in our high school productions for over a year and has revealed her expressiveness and emotional intelligence in her interpretations of the roles she took on, including Lady Macbeth and Holly Golightly. Her ability to guide other students through all the elements that go into making a school production a success reveals her strong leadership abilities.
Amy would bring a lot to your school, both in and out of the classroom. If you have any questions about Amy’s qualifications, please feel free to contact me at (111) 111-1111 or at [email protected].
Chemistry Teacher and Dramatics Guide
XYZ High School
What Makes a Good Recommendation Letter
As you can see from the sample above, a good recommendation letter is written by someone who has spent some time with you. Only go to someone you think can write a positive letter to you.
Your teacher should also ask you about the college you’re applying to, and tailor the letter to what she thinks the institute is looking for in your letter. A letter for a community college committee will be very different from a letter to Harvard.
Specific examples make a good letter. Did you demonstrate your skills in any particular event or project? It should go in the letter. Anyone can write a general list of qualifications. Not every student has the experience to prove it. What will make your letter stand apart from the next person’s? All the specific experiences that you have had in your school life.
There is no place for cliches in a good letter. This means, no unqualified statements like “John is a hard worker and a diligent student” without any evidence to back up these claims. In the sample letter above, while there are some similar statements, you can tell that the teacher arrived at these conclusions from very specific instances of working with the student.
When and Who to Ask for Recommendation
You should contact a teacher for a reference at least a month before your earliest submission date. In fact, it doesn’t hurt to ask even earlier. Many teachers will prefer to write letters during the summer, so if possible, give your chosen teacher plenty of time.
If you’re applying under early action plans or early decision, you should send in the request even before senior year. Don’t forget that you’re probably not the only one going to them for a letter. The teacher may have a dozen or more letters to write, and you don’t want them to rush, for your own benefit.
To decide who to ask, carefully read through your college applications. Sometimes, colleges will mention whether they want a letter from your school counsellor, a specific subject teacher or both. You could always ask your school counsellor or teachers to suggest who you could go to for a reference.
You should pick a teacher who has known you for a while. Even if you’re not the kind of person to speak up too much in class, you’d be surprised by how much some teachers know about you. But it’s always a good idea to ask a teacher you know you outside the classroom too. For example, find a teacher who sat in on the debate club you were an active member of or someone who directed you in a play.
Try to present a well-rounded personality through the sum of your letters. If you’re applying for a science program at college, a letter from your Chemistry teacher to show your love of science and a letter from your language teacher to provide evidence of your good communication skills will together make a good testimony in your favour. The college will be obliged to hire students whose teachers vouch for them with optimism and enthusiasm.