• Beth & Tim Manners

Conquering Teacher Recommendations

Asking teachers for a recommendation ranks high among the most stress-inducing parts of the application process. It’s not hard to understand why that is, but of course there is no avoiding it.


Unfortunately, some students procrastinate to the point where their options become limited, since each teacher can write only so many letters. The best advice, as one counselor told us, is to buck up, and look upon the experience as a valuable, character-building life lesson. “You’re going to have those conversations throughout your life, and maybe it’s uncomfortable, but it will pay off,” she said. “It’s a tiny microcosm of adulthood.”


Asking the question isn’t the only concern; it’s also contemplating what the teacher might choose to say. For that reason, the teacher recommendation is arguably the least controllable part of the application. What’s more, the student is not privy to whatever the teacher writes.


Which of the following sections is most likely to undermine an otherwise

strong application?



Adding to the tension, our survey found that, next to the main essay, the teacher recommendation is the part of the application most likely to undermine a student’s chances. By the same token, it also stands to provide a major, perhaps potentially decisive, boost. Think about it: What better way to validate a student’s application than with a third-party endorsement? If a love of learning is a pivot point in the admissions decision, a teacher’s stamp of approval just might seal the deal.


Based on all of the above, one of the best things students can do to help their cause, is to become as engaged as possible, as early as possible, with as many teachers as possible: asking questions, participating in discussions, seeking advice, going above and beyond at every opportunity. Making their presence felt and remembered.


When such efforts are made, asking a teacher for a recommendation is not such a big deal.

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