Your Role in Getting a Great Letter of Recommendation

April 15, 2022

By Leanne Soulard

While seniors are now in the midst of making their final decisions about where they will attend college next year, it’s time for juniors to start thinking about putting together a compelling and thoughtful college application that helps them stand out from the crowd. Such a phrase automatically makes people think of other application elements like the essay and activities list but teacher letters of recommendation can have a profound impact on how a student is perceived by an admissions counselor.

Juniors, as you begin to think about which teachers you will ask for a recommendation, keep in mind that a letter of recommendation (LOR) is a direct reflection of the teacher-student relationship. In other words, your teacher’s evaluation is a direct reflection of the effort you put in on a daily basis, when things are going well and especially when they aren’t. When students want my advice about who to ask for a LOR, I tell them to choose the teacher they always work a little bit harder for, the one they don’t want to let down, because that’s the teacher getting the best of them on most days. Whether you earned an A or not doesn’t matter; the right teacher to ask is the one who can show admissions counselors just how hard you’ll work for success or persist through challenges. Just ask Mr. Nikotopoulos, my Algebra 2 teacher. (Uhhh, that would be the second Algebra 2 teacher I had in high school.) His letter showed admissions counselors my persistence and willingness to work hard for a passing grade in his course and that was before character counted for anything in college admissions. Today it counts more than it ever has.

The more thoughtful you are about your requests, the more evaluative your letters will be. If your school doesn’t require you to fill out a LOR survey for teachers, you can use this great resource from the Common Application to reflect on your success in class. Take your time filling out any survey you plan to share with your recommenders. A good LOR takes roughly 45 minutes to write, so honor your role in the teacher-student relationship by making sure your teachers have what they need to shine a light not only on your academic skills but also all the other things you add to their classroom. Trust me, your efforts will not go unnoticed.

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