Building relationships with teachers as students can be more important than you may think and whether you’ve done it or not will be evident once senior year comes around. When asking teachers for letters of recommendation, students should take into consideration what teachers have seen them grow as students and people in general; teachers who can say good things about you in order to make it a good letter.
“I usually ask a student if there’s something specific that they’re trying to promote or emphasize in their application letter so I try to go with what the student needs and try to be as helpful as possible,” English teacher Daniel Farias said.
Students need to take into consideration a few things before asking teachers for a recommendation letter.
“They need to take into consideration the time of the year, like is it the end of the grading period? More so, that’s the small part—the big part is which teacher they wanna target to know what kind of recommendation it will be. Is it a core teacher? They’re gonna be able to talk about the course [and how the student did in it in general]. If it’s an elective teacher, they’re gonna give a more well-rounded end of how the student interacts with others,” Business teacher La Rhon Fields said.
Now, teachers can write their letters digitally since it’s more common for programs to request digital submission.
“Both are fine, for the digital ones, we usually just upload a document anyway, so I’ll end up composing a document of the recommendation letter. If it’s digital, sometimes there’s other little questions about, you know, adjectives that describe a student, how long have you known them, that sort of thing. Both are easy, I’d say the digital ones are probably a little easier, because the platform gives you all the stuff,” English teacher Julia Whitfield said.
Once teachers write and send the letters, neither them or the student ever hear from them again.
“I don’t know how helpful letters of recommendation are. I would love to talk to college admissions counselors and scholarship people to see how much emphasis they put on the recommendation letter, because I feel like it takes a lot of time on the teacher’s part, so I would just like to know how useful and relevant they are in the overall application process. But that has nothing to do with the student, that’s more on the college, because if they’re just making it a requirement and they don’t really take that into consideration or factor that in, then I feel like it’s unfair to the students and to the people who are writing them,” Farias said.
Most teachers agree that they wouldn’t say something that might negatively impact the student or his chances at getting accepted.
“I can almost promise I’m not ever going to do anything that would harm the kid’s chances. I’m not gonna to say all these things that will make the kid sound like the next Steve Jobs. But generally, there’s no need to worry about it. I don’t say anything in there that I wouldn’t say directly to the person,” English teacher Mark Cannon said.
Most teachers agreed that, if they felt like they couldn’t write a good recommendation for a student, they would ask them to ask another teacher.
“If I feel like I don’t have a good recommendation for a student then I probably wouldn’t write one, so it’s usually for students I feel like I know well enough and have something nice to say about them,” Farias said.
However, they always try to be honest when writing the recommendations.
“If you want a recommendation from me, I’m going to have to be honest. So if [the student] knows they really weren’t up to snuff, then I don’t give that recommendation to that kid, because I’m not gonna lie if my reputation’s at stake—I can’t write things under my name saying ‘Oh, great kid!’ and then they go to college with a scholarship [and they disappoint them], and they’ll be like, ‘We’re not taking his recommendation anymore.’ [But] they’re all pretty much favorable if they’re for favorable students,” Fields said.
If they feel like they’ve developed a good relationship with them, students shouldn’t have to worry about what the teacher said about them in their letter.
“I feel like if they know the teacher that they’re asking, they don’t have anything to worry about. So I feel like if they feel like it’s someone that’s their role model, or mentor, then there’s that relationship that they can kind of trust,” Farias said.
It’s also helpful for teachers when students include on their resume what extracurricular activities they’re involved in.
“I expect a resume, and within the resume, you can include what clubs or organizations, GPA, some other courses they’ve taken and how they’ve done in them. That way when we’re writing letters, even if you know them, you would be able to [get to] certain key points because the rest, if you know the kid, you can be able to put it all together. If I such get a resume and I don’t know you, it’s like ‘Hey, it looks like you have good grades,’ but then it just seems like there’s a disconnection,” Fields said.
Finally, teachers all agree that you can’t wait until the last minute.
“Don’t bombard me all at once on the same day, asking for the letter due tomorrow. That’s not a lot of fun,” Cannon said.