Most students find this to be a slight problem. Math teacher? I always sit in the back. Gym teacher? Doesn’t know I exist. Counselor? Has 100 other students to deal with. In order to avoid this common, but unfortunate dilemma it is important to start early and to start strong. This isn’t an advise to start a friendship with all 7 or 8 teachers. This is to say that it is important to get to know one or two teachers and assure that those teachers do the same thing in return. While the recommendations do not have to be from an academic teacher, most universities ask for at least one academic recommendation. This means that other than the one, the other recommendations can be from youth leaders at church, coaches, art teachers, etc. However, all letters of recommendation should have at least a slight indication towards the perspective student’s academic potential. Hence, the letters that hold the weight are the ones from teachers.
If the student makes the effort to be polite, to spend a little time in the classroom outside of class, and to show diligence while in class, all teachers feel honored to help their students have a better shot of getting into college. While a teacher is unlikely to write a truly bad recommendation, colleges can tell the difference between a generic letter of recommendation and a personal, more detailed letter.
So, how do you get a better letter than John who sits across form you? Or, how do you make sure the letter isn’t the same as Lisa’s (generic)? It’s simple, really.
- Do not ask a teacher that barely knows you. Generic, generic, generic.
- Plan ahead. Give the teacher at least a month’s notice before he or she has to submit the letter. The less time, the more cranky the teacher will be while writing it.
- Do not ask when the teacher is busy, or distracted. Take the time to go in outside of class and ask politely. The teacher is doing you a favor, don’t act like you’re doing him or her a favor.
- Sometimes, it is helpful to provide the teacher with a brief resume. Other times, teachers have forms already made that ask you to list talents, important moments, etc. in order to help them write the letter.
- Provide envelopes and stamps. If he or she is doing this much to help you pursue your education, they should not have to buy stamps for you too.
- Follow up. After about a week’s time, politely remind the teacher about the due date. After the work is done, write thank-you notes to all teachers who you asked to write a letter.