THE 'WHY' AND THE 'HOW' OF TEACHER RECOMMENDATIONS
Most colleges require recommendations from guidance counselors and teachers in order to have a clearer picture of the applicant beyond the transcript, GPA and test scores. Because they are forming a freshman class for the college community it is important to know more about a student's character, personality, level of intellectual curiosity, maturity, degree of class participation and other characteristics that are not apparent by the raw data of the application.
The Common Application form states it best in its tips to counselors and teachers: "Please feel free to write whatever you think is important about this student, including a description of academic and personal characteristics. We are particularly interested in the candidate's intellectual promise, motivation, relative maturity, integrity, independence, originality, initiative, leadership potential, capacity for growth, special talents, and enthusiasm. We welcome information that will help us to differentiate this student from others."
The recommendations are very time consuming to write and require a knowledge and ability to convey information about the student beyond just having him or her in class. How do you go about choosing that teacher who will write a strong recommendation for you? Here are a few suggestions from "101 Tips for College Bound Students" by Jacobs and Reiter:
1. Ask a teacher from an academic course in the 11th (preferably) or 12th grade. (You have changed and grown since you were a freshman. I recommend to juniors that they ask that 11th grade teacher now at the end of the year, rather than waiting until next fall.)
2. Choose a teacher who will have something good and meaningful to write about you. (You will improve your chances of receiving a positive recommendation and one that will touch upon things about you that are of interest to the college.)
3. Pick a teacher who knows you well. (A good reason to pick a teacher who has had you in class a whole year, rather than a senior year teacher who may have you as a student for only a few months.)
4. Make your request far enough in advance; do not wait until the last minute. (Teachers are very busy people and may only have time to write for a limited number of students. Teachers with a reputation for writing thorough letters will fill up fast - be the first in line.)
5. Meet with the teacher. (Don't ask the teacher in the hallway on the run. Make an appointment to discuss your goals, your special interests and activities and where you are applying. Have a résumé prepared in case the teacher doesn't have a questionnaire to hand out.)
6. Send a thank you note when the recommendation is completed. (This is a common courtesy that you should extend to all the people who will help you with your college quest.)
A word about sending more recommendations than the school requests: do this if, and only if, that extra recommendation can be unusually strong and written by a person who personally knows you. An extra recommendation can set you apart from the thousands of students who have glowing recommendations, fabulous test scores and mind boggling GPAs, but not if it comes from some far off alumnus who knows your parents, a well known politician who wouldn't know you if you sat down next to him, or, for heaven sake - not your parents!
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