Last week, we discussed the "why", the "who", and the "when" of those all-important teacher recommendation letters for college admissions. If you missed it, click here for a recap. The "how" instructions are so critical in getting right, an entire blog post all on its own has been dedicated to the task. Here we go!
There's an art to the process. Follow the instructions below to help you navigate your way toward securing your best recommendation letters. Keep in mind, every high school has different protocols and procedures for requesting teacher recommendations. Follow the advice below within the parameters of your school's rules as best you can.
Part One: Asking, Observing, Deciding
Time to put on your detective hat. It is very important that when you FIRST ask the teachers if they'd be willing to do a recommendation for your college application, you must pay attention to their reaction. If there's even a slight hesitation, then you don't want to actually use them. If that happens, just say thanks and that you'll be in contact with them over the summer. Then, you'll drop it. Got it? You won't actually follow through, and they frankly won't even remember. You want a teacher that responds enthusiastically to your request. Anything less is too risky.
Part Two: Resume and Cover Letter
If the teacher is happily willing to do a recommendation for you, then you will tell them that you'll get your activities sheet/resume to them either before school lets out for summer, or by mid-June if you don't have time to create one due to AP Exams and end-of-year projects. Get from them the email address where they prefer the information to be sent. Once you give them your resume/activities sheet, be sure to wish them an enjoyable and safe summer, and thank them again for doing this for you.
The "cover letter" is an important aspect of the overall package of information that you'll be providing to both your teacher(s) and guidance counselor - the people preparing their letter of recommendation. Think of the cover letter as a roadmap to what you want them to say about you. Even if it's in an email and not a formal letter, you'll want to remind them of yourself as a student in their class. Don't assume the teacher who you hold so dear to your heart has the same place for you in theirs. This is an opportunity for you to "lead" your recommenders in a direction of talking points that you want them to address in their letter. Guide them toward your narrative. They'll appreciate the memory jogging, trust me. So, your email/cover letter might read like this:
"Dear Ms. __________________,
Thank you for agreeing to write a letter of recommendation for me. I'm applying to several colleges in the fall, and your input will be a critical part of my application. I've chosen you as a recommender because _______________________ (what do you want this teacher to say about you?). While in your class, I truly enjoyed __________________________ (pick a specific project or topic - lead them into an anecdotal story about you that represents a character attribute that you want supported by this teacher).
I've enclosed a list of activities of my involvement throughout the last several years in school and my community. I plan on applying by the earlier deadlines, typically November 1, so I thank you for taking the time during the summer to carefully prepare my letter to meet the timeframe.
Thank you, again, and have a safe summer,
Part Three: The Follow-Up
Here's a shocker: your request, albeit made early and well-requested, may actually have slipped the mind of your teacher during summer break. Follow-up with a reminder e-mail the first week of August before school gets underway and crazy. Be sure to attach your resume/activities sheet to the e-mail, just in case they've misplaced the first one you sent. Then, it's up to them.
Again, follow your school's own rules on how teachers "officially" get on the recommender roster to your applied schools. By asking early, providing information, and controlling the narrative you want conveyed, your chances of getting a killer recommendation submitted to your colleges on your behalf go up dramatically if you follow these instructions.