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Image from Pexels

It’s that time of year again: juniors’-college-app-freak-out time. It’s the time when juniors realize that they must apply to colleges next year – the horror! Alas, this is no laughing matter. College applications have many different parts and one of those is teacher recommendations. Teacher recommendations are very important to any application because they gives colleges perspective as to how a student acts in a classroom setting. However, they can be quite nerve-wracking. What if the teacher writes something bad about me? Does this teacher even like me? Can this teacher even write a cohesive sentence? Do not fret. Here are some tips on how to choose the right teachers for recommendations as well as how to approach said teachers.

1. Choose a teacher who knows you well. Basically, you want a teacher who knows you in the classroom as well as outside of it. S/he should not know you as “the kid who sleeps in the corner every day.” Also, your teacher(s) should know who you really are – not just your in-classroom persona. This will allow the teacher to write a more detailed and informed recommendation, which will give colleges a better understanding as to who you are.

2. Be wise in who you choose to write your recommendation. Sometimes, your favorite teacher might not be the best person to write your recommendation. Choose a teacher whose class you know you put a lot of effort into as well as enjoy. Do not ask the teacher whose class you sleep in everyday to write your recommendation, even if you love that teacher. Moreover, if s/he is the teacher of the class in which you show your best work, the teacher will be able to give more concrete examples of your work, which is always a plus.

3. Pick teachers who teach different subjects. Colleges want to see a student who excels in different subjects – someone who is well-rounded (at least that’s what they say). They also want to see a student who tries in a subject, no matter if it is the student’s strength or weakness. Teachers who teach different subjects can provide more diverse perspectives as to how you perform in the classroom.

4. Be respectful of your teachers’ time. Writing a recommendation is a lot of work, especially if the teacher is super popular for writing teacher recommendations. Understand that writing a recommendation is not a 10 minute event (at least for most teachers). Some require at least a full month since they have to write so many. Try to let your teacher know toward the end of junior year, or at least email him/her over the summer that you need a recommendation. Perhaps s/he can complete the recommendation over the summer and that will be one thing checked off of your college application to-do list.

5. Be prepared. Sometimes you won’t find that teacher who knows all that much about your personal life or your extracurricular activities; therefore, make sure you have a resume prepared (find tips of writing resumes here) so that your teacher will have a good idea as to where to start. Besides, if you’re responsible and you already have that ready to go, that’s just another positive thing that your teacher can write about in your recommendation.

6. Be honest. This is quite self-explanatory. To write an honest recommendation, you, as the student, must provide authentic information. Lying will get you nowhere – so just be you!

With college applications on the horizon, it can be quite stressful for juniors. However, teacher recommendations should not be one of the many things students should be stressed about. As long as you contact your teachers early, you will almost definitely receive fantastic recommendations since your teachers probably will not be swamped in requests yet. Good luck!



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the author

Jenny Zhang is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, who is thinking about majoring in economics (but that is definitely not set in stone). She has many talents such as falling asleep anywhere at any time (this can be verified by her roommate) and procrastinating. Jenny likes to spend a lot of her time on YouTube watching baby videos and obsessing over anything Jeremy Lin-related while eating various forms of food that are high in sugar and/or fat. She is currently trying to learn how to play Ultimate Frisbee to avoid the Freshman 15 and attempting to perfect her street-crossing techniques. Her spirit animal is a panda. You can follow her on Twitter @JenKnee_Z

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  1. Lisa on April 19, 2014

    What do you do if you’re not very close with any of your teachers? I’m pretty shy/quiet in my classes, should I just pick a random teacher?

    • Benjamin Din on April 20, 2014

      Something that you can also consider is choosing a teacher in whose class you struggled, but you’ve shown clear improvement in. You don’t necessarily have to be the best student, but if the teacher knows you’ve been improving, that could definitely be a plus!

  2. Jenny Zhang Author on April 20, 2014

    Pick a teacher of a class in which you excel or one that you enjoy. Also, many teachers have you fill out a “survey” or turn in a resume so that they can write a better rec. Worst case scenario, pick the teacher who is probably the best writer.

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