How to Communicate With Teachers for Thoughtful Recommendations

Teacher recommendations are often a required part of college applications. Many selective colleges even require more than one! It may seem superfluous to send multiple teacher recommendations that (hopefully) say good things about you, but admission officers have read enough letters to differentiate between a run-of-the-mill complimentary letter and one that is written with a sense of genuine enthusiasm and interest in a student's achievements.

Chances are, your teacher recommendations will not "make or break" your chances of admission, but there is definitely room for a strong letter to sway the odds in your favor -- especially for less-than-perfect students whose grades may not fully represent their intellectual or academic abilities. In my new book, B+ Grades, A+ College Application, I offer several helpful tips that can help you get the most thoughtful recommendation letters in a timely manner:

1. Pick your teachers early: Since it's summer, it would be in your best interest to start making a list of teachers with whom you have developed relationships. These relationships may stem from classwork, extracurricular involvement, or simply from frequent talks after class. You don't necessarily need to pick the teachers who gave you the highest grades; you want to choose teachers who know you on an academic level and a personal level and will help contribute to the narrative you have prepared for your college application. You want to select teachers who know you well enough to describe your various academic achievements and extracurricular involvements, but those who can also give them context and meaning.

2. Be mindful of deadlines: Before you know it, your college applications will be due and you will be scrambling trying to get all of your required documents in before the deadlines. Do yourself and your teacher a favor by asking for a recommendation at least four weeks in advance of the deadline -- but the sooner, the better. Also, be sure to provide your teacher with a full list of colleges to which you are applying and the deadlines for each recommendation letter. Doing so allows them ample time to compose their thoughts, write the letter, and send it in to your colleges.

3. Get the most out of your recommendation: Remember, this letter is going to be about you so you want to make every effort to be sure that it will be the most accurate, robust and positive reflection of your personality and academic abilities. You can do this by communicating with your teacher the specific ways that you contributed to the class (participating in discussion, helping other students, taking on extra credit, etc.). You may also want to share the topics you learned that you genuinely enjoyed in the teacher's class. Essentially, if you write an email to the teacher that says virtually everything you would hope for a letter about you to say, they will have the material to give you what you need on your application.

4. Write a thank-you note: Believe it or not, it is not within teachers' job descriptions to write college recommendation letters! So, once your teacher has agreed to write a letter on your behalf, take the time to thank him or her for agreeing to write the recommendation. In your letter, you can show your appreciation by describing some of the things you learned in her class, again, citing specific examples that the teacher may want to include in her letter.