Who You Gonna Call? Teacher Recommendations

Start Early.

One of the key components of any college application are teacher recommendations.  Get on it early, communicate well with the teachers writing for you, and remember: They’re doing you a HUGE favor.  

Disorganized, demanding, or disagreeable does not get you far.


Whom should you ask to write a recommendation for you?

  • Teachers whom you KNOW YOU WELL, preferably ones with whom you got along, or had a more personal relationship.
  • Teachers in your art area, or private instructors, if you are applying for conservatories or colleges in your art;
  • Teachers from your JUNIOR year are preferred, or required, for academic letters, although you can draw from a Sophomore teacher at your high school;
  • Dual Enrollment professors can be used, but only if you had a particularly good/close relationship with them, and are not as preferable.

How do I ask?

Approach your teacher at school, personally, and EARLY. Don’t wait until the week, or three, before a deadline. They write a lot of them. Ask if they will help you. If they agree:

  • Tell them that you’ll get them a student resumé. It helps them to talk about you;
  • Give them your deadline. If you intend to file early for the military colleges, early action, or early decision, or just want to be able to get in early to beat the cohort pile-ups of students, then they need to know.
  • Ask if there is anything else that they need from you. Provide it, as directed.
  • Send them a short email, thanking them for their help, and providing deadlines, and other important information, in writing. It helps everyone, both you and them, stay on track.

How many do I need?

We would suggest three to five.  You can select which ones go to particular schools in the common or coalition applications. If the school has its own application process, follow those procedures.

Some schools have no preference about the kinds of educators who write you letters.

For STEM schools, some will want:

  • Two math/science
  • A math and a science
  • A math, a science, and a humanities (English/History/Art)

Can I get outside recommendations?

Yes, but, as busy as overwhelmed admissions officers get, use them sparingly. They are usually sent in separately, not through the common app process.

Who makes for a good outside letter?

  • A mentor that knows you better than your teachers. This can include a member of the clergy, a pastor, a coach, a private art instructor, a manager or supervisor at your job, or an educator from a summer program that you regularly attended.
  • A member of the alumni of the school, especially family members or other people who know you well.
  • A VIP with standing. If Steven Spielberg, or Nobel-winning physicist Kip Thorne, wants to write you a letter of recommendation to go to school, don’t say “no.”  It should be ONE of these kind of letters, though. Don’t add any more. 

Letters of Recommendation should be at the top of your list as you enter the first month of your senior year. The longer you wait, the further you go to the back of the queue for teachers to get your letter done.