It’s Time for Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors to Get Started on Their College Letters of Recommendation

By Sam Rosensohn

Freshmen, sophomores and juniors did you get a look at the seniors scrambling around to pull their college applications together? If you don’t want to do that mad, frustrating dance then start on the college application process now.

The first step is to go to the homepages of the colleges you’re interested in and read their applications. It may be an eye-opener, because some of the applications ask for a lot, but it’s better to get a sense of what’s wanted now while you have ample time to pull it together.

When you read the applications look for how many letters of recommendation each school wants. That’s all we’re going to focus on today. Solid, insightful, well-organized letters of recommendation can tip the admissions scales in your favor.

First thing to do is to see how many letters are required. It’s generally between two and three. Now, determine whom you would like to write those letters. I’d suggest you consider teachers who know you well, which means you’ve got to find a way to let your teachers get to know you.

You do that if you’re a freshmen or sophomore by telling a teacher, who teaches a subject you genuinely like, “I really like this subject and I hope to take more classes with you.”  That doesn’t come under the heading of sucking-up. It comes under the heading of being honest, direct and setting the stage so your teacher can get to know you better.

If a student has a 96 average in a course and never offers much of himself in class, what’s a teacher going to write? That the student was highly motivated, an excellent problem solver and responsible. Since the grades on his transcript have already said that, admissions counselors are looking for additional insight into the applicant. They wouldn’t be reading your letters of recommendation, if you didn’t have the grades to get into the school.

Keep in mind that 80 percent of the students applying to any given school have the GPA and the SAT scores to get in. So it’s the other stuff – such as letters of recommendation – that the admissions counselors read in hopes of discovering candidates, who will make their schools better schools.

Here’s what to do when it comes to the letters of recommendation. Consider choosing teachers in three different subjects. This presents a broader perspective than if three math teachers wrote letters – even if you are the math master. Sometimes the best recommendations are born out of the classes where students didn’t get the best grades, but were really challenged and had to break a sweat for the grade they earned.

Give your teachers plenty of time to write the letters. They can take a good hour to compose. The more time you can give a teacher the better. My suggestion is for juniors to ask their teachers to write the recommendations in the spring of their junior year.

This way teachers have the entire summer to do them.

It also makes it easier for a teacher to decline your request, because you will have plenty of time to find another teacher. If a teacher says he doesn’t want to write a letter of recommendation for you, thank him. He’s done you a favor. He saved you from submitting a mediocre letter of recommendation, which would not have helped your chances.

For the best recommendations do the following:

  • Send early for your college applications, which will include the recommendation forms.
  • Give every teacher who agrees to write a letter of recommendation a stamped envelope addressed to the college admission’s office.
  • Give every teacher your resume. It will help to show that teacher what he might not be aware of such as what you accomplished on the athletic fields, or the volunteer work you did off campus that never came up in conversation.
  • If you’re applying to more than one private college, ask the same teachers to send letters for all of your applications.
  • Make it your business to complete the student portion of the recommendation form. If a teacher has a stack of recommendation forms and one doesn’t have a name on it, you’re asking your teacher to do extra work.
  • Fill out the “teacher” part of the form with the name and the address of the high school, the phone number. This will save your teacher time, and he will appreciate that.
  • Waive the rights to read a copy of the recommendation. Teachers are more comfortable writing when they know their recommendation will not be graded by you, your parents and the high school principal.
  • A month before the recommendation is due, ask your teachers if there’s any additional information they might need to write the recommendation. It’s really, a polite reminder.
  • And once you get the recommendation, please write that teacher a thank you letter. It’s called moving it forward for the underclassmen. If the teacher feels good about having invested his time in writing a letter he didn’t get paid for, he will be more likely to welcome the next student who asks him to write a letter.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at