Getting Great Recommendations for College
A great teacher recommendation can add depth and excitement to your college application. But many recommendations end up sounding alike—especially to tired admissions officers reading their fiftieth application of the day. To make your teacher recommendations stand out from the crowd of compliments, try these suggestions from the experts.
You got an "A" in Mrs. Smith's class—your favorite subject. You barely squeaked out a "B+" in Mr. Jones's class, and that was by working harder than you've ever worked in your life. Which teacher do you ask to write a recommendation?
Believe it or not, Mr. Jones could be the better choice. He can write about your determination to learn a subject that was difficult for you. If you had to ask Mr. Jones for extra help, he might know you better than Mrs. Smith does.
On the other hand, Mrs. Smith can attest to your natural aptitude for her subject. If her class is related to a college major you're interested in, or if you completed a significant project or paper for the class, she may be a good choice. (Of course, if you need more than one recommendation, ask both teachers.)
"Students should ask teachers from classes where they have been most engaged intellectually, and especially where they have done a special project requiring independent work, follow-through, and imagination," says Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School (CA). "Just an A in the class is not noteworthy."
So don't choose teachers based on grades alone. Think about the work you did in their class(es), the relationship between you and the teacher, and how your experience in the class could fit with your college choices. If the teachers don't know you very well or the class wasn't very demanding, you'll end up with so-so recommendations.
"Find someone who really knows you, warts and all," says Richard Adam, college advisor at Albuquerque Academy (NM). "It is better to have a knowledgeable report that is balanced than an antiseptically clean but generic one."
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. © 2008 National Association for College Admission Counseling.
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