For Juniors: How to Secure Strong Recommendation Letters from Your Teachers

Admissions Tips 7 min read
Photographer: Van Tay Media | Source: Unsplash

In this article, CollegeAdvisor.com admissions expert Rashmi covers how to secure strong recommendation letters from your junior year teachers. For more guidance on recommendation letters and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.


As a junior, you are probably starting to think about your college applications. While you may have already started building a school list and considering essay topics, your teacher recommendations are equally important. In this blog post, I will walk you through which teachers to ask, when to ask, and how to ask (in this digital age) for recommendation letters.

If you want to learn more about recommendation letters in general, I recommend checking out this blog post.

Which teachers should I ask to write my recommendation letters?

Most schools will require students to submit recommendation letters from two high school teachers: one from a math or science teacher and one from a humanities, social sciences, or language teacher.

Beyond these stipulations, who you ask will largely depend on your field of interest. For example, if you are interested in majoring in biology, it would be a good idea to get your biology teacher to write a letter of recommendation. If you are considering business, you may want to get your economics teacher to speak on your behalf.

Another thing to keep in mind is your relationship with your teachers. The best recommendation letters come from teachers who know who you beyond your grades. You may have gotten a great grade in the class the teacher taught; however, if you did not take the time to participate in discussions, to get to know your teachers outside of the classroom, or to engage in clubs that the teacher advises, the teacher can only say so much about you. As a result, your letter of recommendation could look similar to another student’s letter of recommendation, making it obvious to the college that the teacher did not know you well.

As a junior, it is not too late to forge these relationships.

Letters of recommendations ideally come from junior year teachers—read more about why here). If there is a teacher you are considering asking, send them an email to set up a Zoom call. Take the time to get to know your teacher, to share your interests, to grow in and out of the classroom.

As a bonus, you may find that the teacher can also connect you to opportunities you may be interested in. My high school teachers were the ones that helped me find my summer research internship and most rewarding volunteering experiences. This ultimately strengthened our relationship and made for a more personalized letter of recommendation.

When should I ask for a letter of recommendation?

While each high school may have a different process for requesting for recommendation letters, it would be a good idea to notify your teachers at the end of your junior year (May-June). We recommend this timeline for the following reasons:

  1. If you ask your junior year teachers, your academic performance and/or interests will be fresh on their minds. If you wait until the new school year, the teacher will be getting to know a new class of students, so they may not remember everything about you.
  2. Your teachers will have to write letters of recommendations for many of your peers as well. They will only have the bandwidth to write a certain number of recommendations, so you want to make sure you are one of them. This does not mean you should compete with your peers— I simply mention this so you are cognizant of your teachers’ time.

After initially asking, I would follow up with the teacher during the first or second week of your senior year (August-September). I would continue to follow up on a monthly basis (or more frequently depending on when the deadline is) with the teacher so that you provide a friendly reminder. Your teachers have a lot of responsibilities, and it is important to respect that your recommendation will not be on their mind at all times.

How do I ask for a recommendation letter?

Given the times, there is not a lot of in-person interaction; hence, the recommendation to ask your teachers in-person seems inapplicable.

As a result, I recommend that you either set up a Zoom call to ask your teacher virtually (emulating in-person vibes) or to send a simple and professional email detailing your request.

There are pros and cons to both options. The request comes off more genuine face-to-face and reflects the importance of the recommendation itself. It is also harder for a teacher to decline your request when you are asking face-to-face. However, if the teacher is unable to meet or you have previously discussed letters of recommendations (maybe they wrote one for a summer internship or leadership position), it makes sense to send an email. An email also provides the teacher an opportunity to think about what sort of letter of recommendation they could write for you and whether they would be best individual to speak on your behalf.

To help, here is a letter of recommendation email template:

Subject: Request for Letter of Recommendation

Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr. [Teacher’s Last Name]:

  1. Greetings + Introduction if you have not had the opportunity to get to know your teacher
  2. Ask the teacher if they would be interested in writing you a strong letter of recommendation for college
  3. Mention why you decided to ask this particular teacher for a letter of recommendation
  4. Detail any due dates, guidelines, etc. the teacher should be aware of if they choose to write a recommendation
  5. Thank them for considering your request

Thanks,

[Your First and Last Name]

This email outline (pretty much the exact one I used to ask for letters of recommendation for medical school) offers you an opportunity to make your case about why you would like your teacher to write a letter of recommendation and to be upfront about guidelines/expectations. Furthermore, if you ask the teacher if they can write you a strong letter of recommendation and they accept, you can be confident in the quality of the recommendation you will receive.

Some teachers may ask you to supply additional information like a resume or your Common Application Personal Statement. They may also ask you to complete a form they have created for letters of recommendations. Ensure that you provide this information in a timely manner or provide a timeline of when the teacher can expect to receive this information from you.

How do I thank my recommenders?

Personally, I think this is such an important part of the recommendation process. Your recommenders would have put significant time and effort into your recommendation— at the very least, they warrant a verbal thank you.

However, a hand-written thank you note will be more heart-felt. I recognize that you may not have the opportunity to hand the note to your teacher in-person and/or you may not know your teacher’s address. In these cases, I would either send a thank you email or ask them for an address so that you can send a note. You should aim to get the thank you note out within a week after your teacher has submitted your recommendation. As a side note, whenever you decide where you will go to college, you should share this news with your recommenders so they, too, can celebrate your accomplishment. After all, they did play a part in the journey.

Figuring out which teachers to ask and actually asking the teacher for the letter of recommendation can seem like daunting tasks; however, you have time to both cultivate your relationships with your teachers and to request for a recommendation. Hopefully, this blog post offers some clarity on teacher recommendations as you start navigating your college application journey.

Recommendation Letters: Final Thoughts

Figuring out which teachers to ask and actually asking the teacher for the letter of recommendation can seem like daunting tasks. However, you have time to both cultivate your relationships with your teachers and to request for a recommendation. Hopefully, this blog post offers some clarity on teacher recommendations as you start navigating your college application journey.


This informational essay on recommendation letters was written by Rashmi Bharadwaj, Vanderbilt ‘21. If you want to get help with your college applications from Rashmi or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.

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