I promised I’d get around to writing about recommendations, and at long last I have. Colleges look at recommendations, first and foremost, to get additional information about what kind of student you have been and will be. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, then, that the most important recommendations are usually from teachers.
There are, of course, exceptions. If your dad’s best friend has his name on a building, a reference letter from that person won’t hurt, even if you never met him. Since that’s not terribly common, unfortunately, let’s focus on teachers for today (on the other hand, if your dad’s best friend would like to get his or her name on a building, please have them contact me).
The best teacher to write about your academic talents is going to be the one that admissions officers will find the most credible. As a result, the perfect teacher profile is one who has taught you most recently (or who is teaching you now), who teaches a challenging academic subject (math, science, English, social science or foreign language), and in a class where you had to work really hard but also received great grades. And the teacher should also like you. That last is usually the challenging part. It’s almost impossible to find exactly this combination, so make trade-offs (haven’t had since I was sophomore, but LOVES me, for instance).
There is an art to asking for recommendations, namely that you should ASK. Teachers are incredibly busy people and these requests come in WAVES. You also need to ask the right way. The correct question is, “Would you please write me a GOOD recommendation.” The emphasis is important. I’ve read a huge number of recommendations where the writer is seemingly out to get the student. A bad sign is if the recommender replies, “Well, I can write you a TRUTHFUL recommendation.” That is code for, “you did something a while back that really ticked me off and I’m going to feel compelled to share.” I had one that went into tremendous detail about how the student toilet papered her house the previous year. It was all I could remember in committee.
Next up, what your recommenders should write about, and who else can write them. Be seeing you.
Filed under: Education |