Strong teacher recommendations personalize and differentiate you, place you within the context of other students, and round out your college application. To that end, it is important to develop your relationships with teachers by participating in class discussions and engaging in special projects and papers during your junior year. And when it comes time, choose teachers who can create a picture of you as an individual, share your unique qualities, and tell the colleges how you will contribute academically and in campus activities.

Listed below are tips for choosing recommenders and suggested responsibilities for students.

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Why are Teacher Recommendations so Important?

Teacher recommendations are one of the only components of a student’s admissions file that provides an “objective” view of the student—beyond the student’s own achievements through grades, test scores, and activity descriptions, supplemented by personal reflections through the Personal Statement.

As MIT explains:

Because of our highly competitive applicant pool, letters of recommendation hold substantial weight in our admissions decisions. A well-written letter for an outstanding applicant can show impressive characteristics beyond their own self-advocacy.

Marymount University, in Virginia, adds:

College admissions committees love letters of recommendations because teachers can provide a unique and trusted point of view on your academic level, your personality, leadership capability and readiness for college.

As a result, it is very important to wisely choose who you ask, and to provide them with the appropriate information.

Who to Select

Many factors should be considered when you choose which teachers to ask for college recommendations. Choose teachers from the five core academic subjects of English, history, foreign language, math and science. Keep in mind that colleges use the recommendations to forecast how you will perform academically in a college setting, so teachers of your more advanced courses will often provide you with the best options. And contrary to what you may think, you should not necessarily choose teachers from whom you earned the best grades; sometimes an excellent choice is a teacher who saw you initially struggle in a course, attend extra help sessions, and work hard to improve your performance.

Consider the following preferred characteristics:

  • Teachers of 11th or 12th grade courses
  • One teacher from STEM (math/science) and 1 teacher from the humanities (English, history, foreign language)
  • Teachers of Honors/AP/IB courses, to demonstrate your ability to succeed at college-level work
  • Teachers who also know you outside the classroom, for example sports coaches or club advisors, who can discuss other facets as well

Also, requirements may be college-specific. Read each college’s instructions regarding whether it is preferable to ask teachers in specific subject areas, depending on your intended major or program.

Student Responsibilities

In April or May of your junior year, ask teachers if they would be willing to write a college recommendation. Check with your school’s college counselor to see if there is a procedure in-place for requesting teacher recommendations.

In June of your junior year, write an email to the teacher recommenders providing background information. It is helpful for students to write an email to these recommenders discussing your performance in their classroom and what you learned. The letter to the teacher can address the following questions:

  • Why did I select this teacher to write my rec letter?
  • What aspects of my classroom performance am I most proud of?
  • How did this class help me grow as a student or as a person?
  • What is my greatest achievement in this class?
  • What areas did I work to improve, and how?
  • What ideas, understanding and knowledge did I take away from this class?
  • What are my academic and professional goals?

In September of your senior year, finalize your college list and your choice of recommenders, if you have not already done so:

  • Enter your college list on your high school’s Naviance site (if your school subscribes) and the Common Application.
  • Find out from your high school’s college counselor if your school’s policy is for students to submit recommendations electronically through Naviance, SCOIR, or another admissions software platform or directly through the Common App; and enter the emails of your recommenders on the appropriate website.

In November of your senior year, after you have submitted your early applications, check on the colleges’ portals to confirm that your teachers have submitted their recommendations!

Other Recommenders

Many colleges allow students to invite recommenders in addition to academic teachers. On the Common Application, the options include: arts teacher, clergy, coach, college access counselor, employer, family member, peer, and other (such as research mentor). Some colleges will only accept recommendations from some of these categories, so check to see which categories each college will accept. This can be an excellent opportunity to round out your portrait in the admissions process.

Your recommendations provide another opportunity for college admissions officers to learn how you might contribute to campus life. Providing colleges with a full picture of who you are can be challenging. For guidance on all aspects of college admissions, contact As always, we’re happy to help!