How to Get the Best College Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are essential to your college application. Teachers will be writing many recommendations including yours on top of doing their jobs, so it’s your responsibility to stay ahead of deadlines and supply the necessary information for them to write glowing references. Our guide and questionnaire will help you get the ideal recommendations!

Who should write your recommendations?

The majority of schools ask for at least one recommendation; many want one from a teacher and one from your college counselor/school counselor. You should choose teachers who can speak to your academic performance as well as to your character. Consider choosing recommenders who know you well, and who teach subjects that are related to the college major you are interested in pursuing. It’s also advantageous to choose teachers from different disciplines, such as English and math. 

TIP: Build or enhance relationships with teachers in advance. A recommendation from a teacher who has seen you grow academically and personally is better than one written by a near-stranger. Beyond a college recommendation, talking with and working alongside teachers outside of class will enhance your education!

If you are applying to specific programs (i.e. STEM, arts, etc.), you most likely will be required to have a recommendation from a teacher in that field.

Lastly, some schools will allow you to share an optional recommendation from another teacher or a non-academic mentor, such as a community service leader or employer.

TIP: If you get the chance to share an extra recommendation, take it! Get a recommender who can show a different side of you. Maybe you’re an outstanding soccer player – have your coach write a letter! A gifted sculptor? Ask your art teacher!

How should I ask for my recommendations?

Sincerely, kindly – and early. Recommendations require additional work from your teachers, so take the time to ask in person, and if they agree (they typically will), give them a sincere thank you. Be sure to give them plenty of notice – at least six weeks before the soonest deadline, but preferably sooner. If you would like one of your teachers from junior year to write your recommendation, we suggest that you ask them before the summer so your performance is fresh in their minds. 

Teachers may want to discuss with you your contributions to the classroom and the greater school community. If there are any particular strengths, anecdotes, or sides of you that you want the recommender to focus on, don’t be shy. Tell them! Guidance from you will help your recommenders write the best letter on your behalf!

TIP: Give your teacher a copy of your most recent resume or a list of achievements and extracurriculars, an assignment you received a high mark on, and write down what you have garnered from their class.

Follow up

After making requests, be sure to stay on top of your deadlines and communicate with recommenders. Continuously check your online applications or Naviance (or whatever college server your school uses) to see if letters have been submitted. If the recommendations are not submitted two weeks before the deadline, send your recommenders a courteous reminder and thank them again. 

It is up to you to ensure that all your recommendations are submitted. Check early and often. Admissions will not consider your application unless all required materials are submitted, including teacher and counselor recommendations! For example, a student from an elite private school had his Early Decision application to Cornell refused last year because of a late recommendation.

TIP: Make sure to send sincere thank-you notes to your teachers after they have submitted!

The Classroom Door has a recommendation questionnaire you can provide to give your recommenders the most valuable information about your strengths, goals, and experiences. To view the questionnaire and more tips on letters of recommendation, see more at

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