Teacher Recommendations… Who, What, Where, When, Why?

The majority of selective four-year colleges are going to ask applicants to provide teacher recommendations. It’s smart for students to think about these in advance and not wait until the last minute to ask for them. In this blog, we outline the 5W’s of college recommendations.


Let’s start with whom do colleges want recommendations from? If you are looking to apply to a selective university, chances are they are going to want one or two recommendations from major subject teachers of a junior or senior year course.



Next is, what makes for a good recommendation? A good teacher recommendation is not necessarily from the teacher of the course in which you earned an easy A. A teacher recommendation will ideally include anecdotes and provide insight into both what an applicant is like as a student and as a person. So, ask a teacher who knows you well, or the teacher of a class you worked hard in.



Where in the application process is the recommendation used? This depends on the college and their application review process, but generally, admissions representatives read recommendations after looking over the applicant’s transcript, testing scores and activities. The recommendation(s) will provide the reader with more insight into what the applicant is like as a student in order to provide some context to the numbers.



When should students ask for recommendations? Since colleges typically want recommendations from junior or senior year teachers, if a student is considering applying early (Early Decision or Early Action, deadlines for which are typically late fall) it might be best to ask junior year teacher who have known you for a full year. However, sometimes asking a senior year teacher makes sense if it’s a teacher you’ve had before, or you can’t think of anyone to ask from junior year. The end of junior year is a good time to reflect and ask two junior year teachers if possible.



Teacher recommendations can be an important part of the application. If two applicants have similar credentials, hearing from the student’s teacher about what an exceptional person they are, how they help their fellow classmates, or how they worked hard to bring a C grade up to an A can make one applicant more appealing than the other.


To summarize, the advice that fits most college applicants is to ask two major subject teachers at the end of junior year to write recommendations for you. However, every student and their circumstances are different. If you can use help with choosing teachers for recommendations, or any other stage of the college application process, contact us for a free consultation.

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