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.

Who to Select

Many factors should be considered when you choose whom to ask for college recommendations. 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 characteristics:

  • Teachers of 11th or 12th grade
  • Teachers of core academic subjects
  • Preferably one teacher from math/science and 1 teacher from the humanities (English, Social Studies, Foreign Language)
  • Teachers of Honors/AP/IB courses are optimal 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, 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 May of your junior year, ask teachers if they would be willing to write a college recommendation.

In June of your junior year, write an email to the teachers providing background information. It is helpful for students to write an email to their teacher 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:

  • 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 guidance office if your school’s policy is for students to submit recommendations electronically through Naviance or 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. For guidance on all aspects of college admissions, contact As always, we’re happy to help!