Choosing Writers for Your College Recommendations

So you’re agonizing over whom to ask to write your letter(s) of recommendation for college. Should you choose your AP Chemistry teacher because you’re looking to go pre-med and he can speak to your science skills? Or maybe your history teacher could capture your growth as a student because she taught you freshman and junior year? Fortunately, no admissions officer expects a recommendation letter to capture everything about you—that’s what you’ll strive to do in the rest of your application. Instead, a great letter either a) fills out a fuller picture of you in ways that you simply are unable to do yourself, since it comes from a unique, outside perspective; or b) confirms or eliminates any question marks the admissions officer might have from reading the rest of your application. Thus, they can be an incredibly important component of the application…just the vote of confidence an admissions committee needs to write “admit” on your file.

If choosing a recommender is a source of stress for you, think of it this way: if you are thoughtful about whom you choose to write your college recommendations, chances are it will be a fine addition to your application. Still, there are a few things you may want consider when asking someone to support your application in this way:

1) Make a list of teachers whose class(es) you really enjoyed. They need not have taught you in a subject that you’re considering pursuing in college. If you enjoyed their course, it’s highly likely that your best qualities as a student came through, presenting them with a portrait of you at your best.

2) Ask early. Popular teachers, including ones who teach a lot of juniors, are typically asked to write many rec letters. Consequently, many have (wisely) put a cap on the number they agree to write each year. Further, teachers tasked with writing so many letters may not be able to commit the time to each student’s letter as another teacher with, say, half the load. So if you have your heart set on a particular teacher, don’t wait until it’s too late.

3) Think outside the box. While many universities will ask for at least one recommendation from a teacher who taught you in an academic course, many allow for you to submit more. You may have teachers that mentor a club that you lead, coach a team you’re on, or know you personally outside the classroom in a way that could really enhance their appreciation of your qualities that extend beyond academics.

And one final tip: remember to thank anyone who writes college recommendations for you! Teachers are incredibly busy, and writing rec letters is something they are volunteering to do on top of a host of other tasks. A show of appreciation can go a long way.

About the Author

Yosepha Greenfield grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Political Science. While at Yale, she was the Captain of the Women’s Basketball team and the starting point guard. Under her leadership, the team advanced to the NIT tournament for the first time in program history.

Throughout her academic, athletic, and professional career, Yosepha has dedicated herself to helping people become the best version of themselves. She has mentored several young female athletes, promoted the importance of fitness through children’s exercise videos and fitness startups, and now works to help as many students as possible achieve their admissions goals.

Yosepha is also a six-time National Champion in Tae Kwon Do.