Two weeks ago, I conducted a workshop for high school teachers who write many letters of recommendations. It was an engaging session and we all learned more about effective letters of recommendation.
So, what were some takeaways for students about what makes a strong letter of recommendation? Here are a few ideas to share:
- Choose a teacher who can describe you in the classroom. Are you a contributor, quiet, able to wrestle with ideas, a strong writer? Grades represent one part of your application; the teacher recommendation brings you to life in the classroom.
- Your teacher can provide the context in which you are a student. We often read the teacher recommendation to understand what is covered in a class and what the pace of learning looks like.
- Often a teacher shares information that isn’t evident on the transcript – improvement throughout the year, ways in which you engage with other students in the classroom, what motivates you, for example.
Be sure to give your teacher plenty of time to write a letter. If you are applying early action at UVM with an application deadline of Nov. 1, I suggest giving the teacher at least a month to complete your letter. Choose a teacher who you have had more recently. Even better, select one who you may have had more than once. We like to see a teacher recommendation from one of the five core subjects (English, math, science, foreign language or social studies.) It is not a requirement to have a teacher write a recommendation that connects with your intended college major. It is more important to choose a teacher who can describe your academic and personal qualities best.
I tell students not to over think the selection – choose the teacher who knows your academic talents best.
Finally be sure to send a follow up thank you to your teacher who writes your letter – it means so much! Maybe include a small gift card to their favorite coffee house! I imagine that teachers will need that extra latte as they finishing writing all those letters!