There is no secret about how important teacher recommendations can be to your college applications. In fact, testimonials from teachers and others are among the top considerations used by colleges when considering your admission candidacy. The other top factors include: test scores, GPA, academic rigor, activities, leadership, etc. You may incorrectly assume that getting excellent recommendations is outside of your control, that teachers are going to write whatever they want to write rather than what you want them to write. The fact is that nothing could be further from the truth. You have absolute control over your recommendations, because you have absolute control over your behavior and performance in class. These are the factors that teachers will be writing about in their recommendations.
Do you want a lousy or lukewarm recommendation? Of course not. However, that is exactly what you will get if you show little or no interest or effort in class. In fact, teachers will likely feel very negatively about you if you show no respect in class and then ask for a recommendation. Try to see the situation through the eyes of your teacher. What kind of recommendation would you give yourself? Now, if you were to be one of the thought leaders in class, a positive role model to other students, and someone who showed significant interest in the subject, what kind of recommendation would you then give yourself? The fact is that a stellar recommendation is a reward for stellar performance and behavior in class. They go together like a hand and glove. An excellent classroom performance deserves an excellent recommendation, and a lackluster performance in class deserves, and will likely receive, a lackluster recommendation.
So, how do you ask a teacher to give you a great recommendation? You do so by proving that you deserve it! In this case, actions speak much louder than words. Here are some tips for earning excellent recommendations.
- Participate in class early and often. In fact, be one of the most prolific contributors to classroom discussions. Become an Integral part of the classroom dialogue. Don’t expect to sit in class silently day after day and receive a stellar college recommendation just because you asked for one. You have to earn it. In many cases, everything that the teacher knows about you is based on the short interactions you have each day in class. Therefore, take every opportunity to make a positive impression upon your teacher.
- Become a class leader. There’s nothing that a teacher appreciates more than having a strong, positive role model in class. You can assist the teacher by leading appropriate discussions, asking insightful questions, and demonstrating your interest in the subject matter. If your enthusiasm for the subject is contagious, it will go a long way toward solidifying a positive recommendation. Understand that, from a teacher’s perspective, the difference between a terrible class and an excellent class can be one student who provides strong leadership. Try to be the most valuable student in your class.
- Prepare for each class by prereading the material that will be covered. You always want to be ahead rather than behind. If you have read the material prior to class, you are much more likely to be interested in the material and also a more prolific participant in classroom discussions. You always want to know what will be discussed and to be able to join the conversation, rather than hiding behind the guy in front of you because you have not adequately prepared for class.
- Take a personal interest in the material covered in class. Relate the things you learn to things you already know. Find a connection to something that interests you. This is known as an “active learning technique,” but it also has implications for your recommendations since you are far more likely to be a positive member of the class if you have an interest in the material or if you can relate to material to something in your own life.
- Meet with your teacher outside of class time to discuss issues that interest you, class assignments, upcoming tests, or work that you can do to earn extra credit.
When it comes to recommendations, you get what you deserve. Don’t expect a teacher to write you a great recommendation unless you deserve it. And, if your goal is to get into a top college, these recommendations need to be extraordinary. Top colleges will not be impressed by a recommendation that says you are a “good student who always gets his homework done on time.” They will certainly be impressed by a recommendation that says that “you are one of the best students that teacher has ever had the pleasure of teaching,” that you were “a leader in the class,” and that “your influence helped to spark an exceptional atmosphere for learning.”
by Neil Chyten