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Obtaining Outstanding Teacher Recommendations

Obtaining a great letter of recommendation does not happen by accident or fortuitous circumstance. Getting an outstanding college recommendation happens through decisive, prescriptive preparation on how to orchestrate and receive a college recommendation letter that presents the student in the best possible light by showcasing skills, abilities, character, and other distinguishing personal qualities.

Colleges frequently require two or three recommendation letters (and allow 1-2 additional personal recommendations) from people who have knowledge of the student through experience, including academic teachers (usually English), guidance counselor, coach, advisor, or employer. They want the letters to be genuine and to be written by someone who truly knows the student well and can accurately describe the student’s skills, classroom presence, talents, attitude, special accomplishments, and demeanor. Typically, though not always, recommendations are sent through the Common Application. Each college has different rules, but most will accommodate teacher, counselor, and outside recommenders through the common application or directly through their own applications.

Letters of recommendation are valued by colleges because they reveal things about the student that are not reflected in test or grade scores, provide personal, first-person insight about character, and demonstrate a willingness to support the student’s candidacy and credentials. Colleges are looking for teacher recommendation letters that distinguish the applicant. But for a teacher to be able write a WOW letter, the student earn it – and then must REMIND the teacher of those characteristics that might go into the recommendation. Sometime, this is done through brag sheets, and other times through a letter written directly to the recommender. Anecdotes about class or outside activities work well. Statements such as, “I always made a concerted effort to be helpful, and a positive influence in class” serve as reminders of classroom performance that are worthy of comment.

That’s where the long and short planning comes in. Don’t wait. Plan now for the future letter of recommendation. It is imperative that students provide reasons for teachers to write exceptional recommendations. These recommendations should delineate the experiences and attributes that colleges look for including character, leadership, willingness to take risks, initiative, participation, attitude, helpfulness, commitment to learning, and willingness to help others.

In most cases, teachers will ask you to write what is commonly referred to as a “brag sheet.” Often, they will prompt you with a series of questions to answer such as,

“What are three words you would use to describe yourself?”

“What do you consider to be your strongest personal attributes?”

“Which aspect of the class did you find most rewarding?”

“What do you want colleges to know about you?”

“Describe your role in the class you took with this teacher. How did you add to this class? Were you active in discussions etc.?”

“What projects, assignments, or achievements are you most proud of in this course?”

Your answers should be robust and revealing. They should not be hastily completed, nor should they be treated as an unimportant or unnecessary task. Generally, well thought out brag sheets result in much stronger college recommendations.

A well-written letter of recommendation that speaks about the student’s attributes that make him or her a viable and excellent candidate for admission to the college of choice is invaluable and should never be discounted. It is never too early to begin planning for the college recommendation. However, if the process seems difficult, time-consuming, or convoluted, it might be a good idea to consult an experienced college counseling expert who possesses the knowledge, qualifications, and expertise to advise a course of action and follow it through to fruition.