Good grades? ✔
Solid SAT score? ✔
Lots of extracurricular activities? ✔
A recommendation from your favorite teacher? X
If you’re a senior hoping to apply to a college this fall, there’s a good chance that you’re going to need help from your loving teachers, specifically in the form of a recommendation letter to your school. Every semester, there are quite a few students who approach me about writing them a college recommendation, and I always say “YES! But it’s gonna cost you…”
Sadly for you, a bag of Doritos ain’t going to cut it. No, if I’m going to write something about how amazing of a student you are, I want a little bit of effort from you, too. Will I write you a recommendation letter? Yes!
But And here’s what I want from you first:
- An entire semester together. It’s not fair for me to tell a college what kind of student you are if I’m teaching you for the first time. I don’t have enough information/experience with you to make an honest, accurate assessment of what kind of student you are. Sorry, but if I haven’t already been your teacher for one semester before now, I can’t help you out.
- 500 words about you. What skills are you telling your college or university that you have? What talents are you planning on promoting to them? What characteristics are you stressing? What I want from you is some self-reflection on who exactly you are as a student, what you “bring to the table”, and what you think I should tell your college about you. I want you to look into the mirror and consciously assess yourself as a student—this way, I’ll know what you are planning on stressing to colleges as your strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t mean I’ll blindly echo your sentiments, but if I agree with who you think you are, I can back you up and support your argument. 1
- ≥4 weeks of writing time. “Teacher, I need a letter! Can you write it this weekend?” No. No no no no no. I need time to think about who you are, takes notes on your strengths and weaknesses, figure out what I’m going to tell your college, and simply write you a professional letter. Don’t expect that I can just spit one out in a few days. By the way, my 4 weeks of writing time starts from the moment you turn in your 500 words, so make sure you get them in early to assure I make your deadline.
In the couple of years that I’ve been using these requirements, I’ve had some students write some great, introspective self-analyses, and I have written some awesome, flattering letters myself. I hope your academic reputation has been solid enough, up to this point, that I can brag on how excellent of a student you are!, and I look forward to reading about the strengths and weaknesses that make you university material!
- By the way, yes, your 500-word writeup will be confidential between you and me, so don’t be scared of truthfully being honest about your abilities and shortcomings. ↩