3 Tips for High School Teachers Writing Recommendation Letters News2america

College is the first time many teens will be on their own, but they may need the help of adults to get there.

Many teens need letters of recommendation from their high school counselors and teachers to get into their dream college. 

“If it’s done right, it brings the student to life,” says Alisha Couch, director of admission operations and transfer recruitment at Ohio Wesleyan University. So much of a college application is just data, she says, and a letter of recommendation can help paint a picture of who a student really is.

Teachers who need help writing letters of recommendation can use the following tips. 

1. Include a personal story: “I think too oftentimes the letters are really formal and stuffy,” says Couch. She’d rather know if a student is funny, witty, charming or maybe really shy.

A personal story can do just that.

“Instead of just saying, ‘Oh, they participate in class discussions,’ I rather them tell me about a specific discussion that they participated in,” she says.

A less effective recommendation is one that rehashes information that’s already been shared elsewhere in the application, like grades or extracurricular activities, Courtney Minden, dean of undergraduate admission at Babson College, said via email.

When reading a teacher recommendation, she is trying to get an idea of what kind of student the applicant is, she said, as a way to predict what kind of student they will be on campus. She wants to know who the student is in the classroom. 

“Chances are that five years from now a teacher won’t remember a student’s final grade, but they will remember how they contributed to the classroom,” she said. “How were they memorable? Those descriptions help bring more voice to the academic side of the application.”

Other educators and admissions counselors chimed in on Twitter.


2. Plan ahead: “It’s incredibly time consuming,” says Alison Morin, a social studies teacher at Roslyn High School in New York. She thinks she writes about 15 to 20 recommendation letters per year.

She usually imposes a deadline for students to request she write a letter, she says. And she writes many over the summer.

Teachers should be aware of application deadlines to avoid overcommitting, she says. They don’t want to promise a student they’ll write a letter and then miss a deadline – because that will hurt the student. 

Some teachers ask students for a recap of their accomplishments or other information. 


3. Don’t be afraid to turn down writing a recommendation letter: “I read a lot of letters where they’ll start off saying, ‘I don’t really know this person, but they asked me to write a letter of recommendation for them,'” says Couch, of OWU.

In those cases, teachers might want to guide the student to select a different person to write the recommendation letter, she says.

Morin, the teacher, thinks many teachers feel obligated or pressured to write a letter for a student if the student asks. “But I think you really should only say yes to the students who you feel you could do a really, really great job for.”

That could be a straight-A student or a student struggling academically with a strong work ethic.

Teachers could ask more experienced colleagues for advice, she says. And the guidance counselors at her school are also helpful.

And while writing letters of recommendation is a lot of extra work, Morin says she doesn’t mind.

Most of her students have been genuinely appreciative. It’s always nice for her to see the students she wrote recommendations for wearing sweatshirts from colleges where they were accepted or will attend.

“Or when they run up to my classroom the day after they find out they got accepted and they are beaming, and they just say, ‘Thank you so much.'”

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