Recommendation Letters: How to Get Strong Teacher Recommendations

Do you find yourself wondering how to secure strong letters of recommendation that will support your college applications? Our webinar, “Recommendation Letters: How to Get Strong Teacher Recommendations,” is here to provide you with invaluable guidance on navigating this critical aspect of the college admissions process.

Designed specifically for high school students and their families, this webinar is presented by our admissions expert, Aaron Brown.

During this webinar, you will:

  1. Understand the significance of letters of recommendation
  2. Identify the right recommenders
  3. Learn how to establish strong relationships with recommenders
  4. Discover strategies for showcasing your unique qualities
  5. Understand the art of making a request
  6. Receive guidance on crafting a recommendation letter packet
  7. Gain insights into what makes a strong recommendation letter
  8. Engage in a live Q&A session: Get the opportunity to have your specific questions answered by our expert, ensuring you have the information and guidance you need.

Letters of recommendation play a vital role in showcasing your unique qualities and potential to college admissions committees. This webinar will equip you with the knowledge and strategies necessary to navigate the process successfully and secure compelling letters that will strengthen your college applications!

Date 02/27/2024
Duration 57:23

Webinar Transcription

2024-02-27 – Recommendation Letters: How to Get Strong Teacher Recommendations

Hello, everyone. Welcome to “Recommendation Letters: How to Get Strong Teacher Recommendations.” My name is Lydia Hollon, and I’m going to be your moderator tonight, and I’m also a Senior Advisor at CollegeAdvisor. I’ve been with the company for about three years now, and in addition to advising students, I’m also the proud co captain of our essay review team.

I’m also a proud graduate of NYU. And in addition to my work with CollegeAdvisor, I’m an education consultant and a former high school teacher. So to orient everyone with the webinar timing for tonight, we’re going to start off with a presentation, then answer your questions after in a live Q&A. On your sidebar, you can download our slides and you can start submitting questions in the Q&A tab now.

We’ll also be recording this session so that you can review the webinar again later. Now let’s meet our presenter, Aaron Brown. Great. Thanks so much, Lydia. Uh, my name is Aaron and, uh, just a little bit about my background. So I worked in admission at USC for 12 years, um, where I had a variety of roles, um, started out as an assistant director, just recruiting, um, you know, traveling around the country.

talking to students about the university and then of course turning around and reading applications. Um, and then left where I was in a role essentially managing the application review process for USC and so I was teaching our new staff how to read applications, uh, running our big application review retreat every year before we started reading applications, um, and then kind of was ensuring quality control and process throughout it as, as we met our goals.

I was reading all 60 plus thousand of those, uh, so definitely have lots of experience reading probably tens of thousands of recommendation letters over the course of my admissions career. Um, and then I switched and did a similar role at UC San Diego, uh, which interesting, of course, because the UCs don’t use any sort of letters of recommendation.

So had experience reading, uh, in two different processes with and without letters. Um, and now I’m on the high school side of things, uh, serving as a college counselor at an independent school. Um, and so now I have experience writing those letters myself. So, uh, lots of, um, insight to, to give you this evening.

Fantastic. So to get us started for tonight, we’re going to do a quick poll before we get into our presentation. I just want to figure out what grade everyone is in. If you are a parent or an educator, please Just select the option other. I’m going to go ahead and open up the poll now. And while you all answer the question, Aaron, I was wondering if you’d like to share what your college application experience was like.

Sure. Uh, seems a bit like ancient history now, uh, 20 years ago. Exactly. Um, I went to a large, um, kind of suburban public school here in California. And so, um, there wasn’t a lot of direct kind of college counseling. You know, I think I met with my counselor twice over the course of my, uh, high school experience.

Um, and so it was a lot of, you know, UCs, um, uh, and kind of, you know, focus on the UCs and CSUs, obviously. Um, so I applied to five schools, which seems quaint, uh, you know, in some ways for modern standards. Uh, three UCs, um, USC and Stanford, so I was keeping it in California. Um, I got in everywhere except for Stanford, and so it was ultimately choosing between USC I went to USC, and, uh, here we are.

Great. Great. So I’m gonna go ahead and close the poll now. It seems like the majority of our attendees tonight are in the 11th grade. We got a handful in 10th grade and a couple of parents. So makes a lot of sense. Important conversation to be thinking about in 10th and 11th grade, for sure. Definitely. So I’ll go ahead and pass it off to you now, Aaron, to get us started.

Thanks so much. All right, so hopefully over the course of the evening, we’ll get a lot of your questions answered when it comes to letters of recommendation and kind of the purpose that they serve in the application review process. Um, what you can do to kind of help ensure that that yours are as strong as possible.

Um, give you a sense of kind of like timeline and my guidance there. And then, of course, as Lydia said, um, leave lots of time to answer your questions. So in essence, kind of, you know, what do they, what do they do? What, what is their purpose? What’s the process or the, um, kind of the. process that they serve, um, as someone reads your application.

And in essence, the goal of the entire application as a reader is to try and learn as much as they can about you in what is admittedly a somewhat limited vehicle of the college application to get a sense of your fit and your needs. For the institution. Uh, and so these letters of recommendation are often the only kind of part of the application.

That’s not written directly by you, or it’s not directly in your voice. And so some can add some really useful context. to your application and a chance for the reader to learn much more about who you are and what you’ve done and your interests and all kinds of great things. Um, and often in a couple of different ways, your teacher recommendation letters will provide all of the information about who you are and how you contribute in the classroom setting.

And then your counselor recommendation letter will speak to kind of. The context outside of the classroom, um, kind of the school overall, your activities, things like that. And so it often will help kind of give the reader perhaps a better sense of some of the things that they already might have gleaned from your transcript or from some of the things that you’ve written about, but can perhaps go into a little bit more depth, uh, add some extra layers of nuance, or again, as the slide says here, really talk about kind of the contextual factors in your.

Application to help kind of ensure that the reader has a complete, you know, picture of, uh, you know, maybe your school environment, how you perform in your classes, um, you know, any sort of kind of, like, circumstances outside of your control that really help to explain things going on, um, all kinds of really potentially useful information can be contained.

Um, and that’s why they’re required by, in essence, most private colleges and universities, uh, as well as some of the flagship publics listed here, places like Georgia Tech, Michigan, North Carolina, um, you know, UVA, et cetera. And then you do have obviously plenty of schools like the University of California system that I mentioned earlier where they don’t.

Um, for a variety of reasons, but I think mainly due to the volume of applications that they have to receive, uh, to read and the extra time that it would entail and reading those. So, why are they important? What kind of is the value add piece from the admission officers perspective? So, I think it’s really important to know that readers are very cognizant of the fact that they’re doing this work on behalf of their faculty.

Admissions as a profession really only kind of began to come into existence in kind of the latter half of last century. Um, because it used to be done entirely by faculty. But then it turns out they had a lot of other things going on, like teaching and doing research. Uh, and so in essence, admissions as a profession was created to kind of offload that work from the faculty.

And so there is still very much the sense of doing it for the professors. And so admission officers are very kind of keyed into, well, how are you going to contribute? To the classroom environment at their particular institution, um, and so they’re looking for a sense of that through all the different components of the application.

Your counselor letter may kind of further speak to the impact that you’ve made in your activities at school, as well as kind of provide a broad insight into the rigor of your curriculum choices vis a vis what’s offered at your school or vis a vis other students in your graduating class. Because ultimately.

The kind of quantitative pieces of the application, your grades, test scores, if you submit them, you know, they do provide a lot of useful information. Absolutely. But especially in an era of great inflation and test prep and things like that, when, you know, at the most competitive schools, nearly every applicant presents with, um, And so if I look at a transcript and I see, you know, a bunch of A’s and some B’s in a very rigorous curriculum, I can make some probably fairly safe assumptions as a reader about what you are like as a student, but these letters really go into depth beyond that about the kind of student that you are.

Right? What is the impact that you make in the classroom beyond someone who simply, by virtue of getting A’s, I can probably assume studies hard, you know, does well on tests, or doing your homework on time, those kinds of things, but I want to know more than that, and the letters do a great job of that, and it’s also an opportunity to kind of have someone else explain something on your behalf if there’s something that might raise a reader’s eyebrow, um, you know, maybe There was something going on at home.

There was family illness or, you know, divorce or something in your grades suffered in a particular year. You maybe don’t want that to be what you write your essay about. You know, you don’t want that to be the focus of your application, but it’s something important to kind of contextualize what was going on.

Well, then maybe your counselor recommendation letter, um, can really provide that sort of insight as to what was going on that led to that different grades and why perhaps what you’re doing now is better reflective of your potential as a student, right? Um, and so it can really be great as a way to contextualize things in the application that really need it.

So who should you ask for a letter of recommendation? The best piece of advice is a teacher. Or counselor, obviously, who knows you the best. Often this is going to be a teacher from your junior year. Um, because a senior year teacher, unless you’ve had them before, may not by the time applications are due, especially if you’re applying early decision or early action.

In November 1st, they won’t yet have been able to perhaps get a complete sense of who you are as a student, you know, seeing some of your best work or different kinds of work. If you know, you ask them, essentially, um, in the latest, you could ask with the early October. We’re only really a month away. into school a month and a half at that point, they just aren’t going to know you as well as your junior year teachers will.

And the schools are not really interested in hearing from a sophomore teacher, again, unless they’re teaching them as a senior, uh, again, or perhaps unless they work with you in a different capacity. Um, but they want to see, you know, what do you kind of hear hearing from a junior teacher gives them a sense of kind of some of your most recent performance, right?

Um, as well as often in some of your more rigorous courses that you chose to pursue, uh, in junior year. Also, sometimes students think, well, it has to be, obviously, a class in which I received the highest grade, right? Like, it can’t be one where I got, like, that, that B or, you know, that A minus that the student’s freaking out about.

Um, but I would say, I definitely have read a number of applica of, of letters, sorry, where it was clear that this was not a course that came naturally to the student. And so the hard work that they had to put in to achieve that grade actually spoke a lot more about who they are as a student than a class where you may just coast because it’s something that comes naturally to you and it’s easy and, and, you know, you automatically get a hundred on everything you turn in.

That’s not really adding much value versus understanding, well, what happens when you don’t get it. What happens when you hit a wall? What happens when you’re faced with challenge? Because that’s what’s going to happen when you go to college. And the rigor increases. And so the reader might want to know, well, how do you respond in that sort of instance?

Um, Again, as I mentioned, you probably want to have recent teachers. So I often was asked, well, what about someone from freshman year or sophomore year? Definitely avoid that if at all possible. Um, unless again, they might be teaching you again, senior year, or if perhaps they, you know, advise the club that you were president of, uh, or, you know, they also happen to be, you know, coach of one of your sports teams or something like that, it’s also usually a good idea, um, that your letter or at least one of them should come from a teacher.

In an area related to what it is that you hope to major in in college. So if you’re applying to engineering as an example, probably is a good idea to have at least one of your letters be from a math or science teacher. And if you’re applying to international relations, maybe you have your APUSH teacher, you know, write a letter for you.

Again, it doesn’t have to be necessarily, especially for those humanities and social sciences programs, but often you might see that some specialized engineering programs may require letters come from certain subject areas. So be sure to look at some of your top. Choice institutions to see if they have guidance on particular subject areas, but it generally is a good idea that you have at least one of your two letters coming from someone in an area related to what you want to study.

And then lastly, there’s this, um, fairly common stereotype that, um, English teachers, because they teach writing, um, must write really great letters of recommendation. So I definitely need to ask my English teacher. Right. Um, and I would say, no, if the English teacher doesn’t know you well, that’s not going to add value, even if it’s well written.

Um, and I wouldn’t say that that stereotype always holds up and that I’ve read some pretty average letters of recommendation from English teachers. So yeah, if they know you well, great. Okay. You know, be sure to reach out to them, but, um, there definitely should not be a thought on your mind that I have to get it from my English teacher.

So, as you think about, well again, this is great, but like how do I ensure that I’m going to get one of those strong letters? Because I’m not writing it, uh, you know, they’re writing it for me. Um, so it’s really about building and of course maintaining relationships. with those teachers, especially in your junior year, um, to ensure that they’re going to have content to put in a really awesome, engaging letter of recommendation.

Um, so I would say it’s quite critical that you engage in the classroom and that can look Like Mary, like you can do that many different ways. It doesn’t always have to be raising your hand and being the first to contribute if you’re someone who’s perhaps a bit more naturally shy or doesn’t like to kind of speak up in that context.

Um, but that, of course, is a good way to do that, you know, asking questions, participating in whatever way you’re comfortable with, you know, making sure that the teacher knows you’re in their class, right? Um, perhaps, you know, um, working with the teacher, um, to kind of bring in some of your interests outside of class.

Um, especially if it relates to something that you’re studying. Maybe you, you just read, um, a book in AP Lit that, uh, particular theme you saw reflected in something that you read on your own and you bring that into the teacher after class and say, you know, I really, I saw this and that kind of how we discuss this.

And I thought maybe in this book, I saw something similar and it kind of just showing your engagement with the material, you know, showing that kind of intellectual. Full depth, um, you know, bringing that kind of thing into the classroom that might provide a really great, um, sort of anecdote for a teacher to include in their recommendation letter.

Um, so really kind of being a part of that intellectual discourse, um, that takes place in the classroom setting. Um, and so maybe seeking out the teacher after class if they have like office hours or, you know, kind of, um, however your school might run that. And then, you know, again, if you have a teacher that knows you well in a setting outside of the classroom that can perhaps speak to a different part of who you are as a student, um, if they are an advisor or a coach or something like that.

And then, of course, you know, for your letter from your counselor depends on your institution and kind of how that works. You know, if you attend a large public school where the counselor, you know, you might be one of. 300 or 400 students in their caseload, you may not have time to get to know them really well.

Um, so maybe you can come up with a kind of cheat sheet about some things that you are and that, that you value and things that you’ve done that you can give to that person. And I’ll talk about that in a minute too, um, about how that might add value when, uh, that counselor may not, you know, really know you in the same way, um, and how you can still get a good letter, uh, regardless.

So how does that timeline work? Generally, I would say earlier the better, although of course we don’t want to go too early. But I would say it’s a good thing to ask before you leave for summer break, you know, so the end of your junior year. Um, for a couple of reasons, I think, you know, hopefully that point you should have a good sense of which teachers you can ask.

gives them the opportunity to work on your letter over the summer so it doesn’t conflict with their teaching load in the fall when applications are due if they wish. And some teachers are like, nope, not going to do that. My summer break is sacred, but others do want to perhaps get that work started over the summer.

So if they have a sense of the workload in front of them, that can be helpful. Um, Although, of course, you know, if a teacher leaves or if you’re really not sure and you want to wait and see what your senior year schedule is, because maybe you have the possibility of that teacher coming back around from, you know, freshman or sophomore year.

Um, you know, they could add some value, right? When they think about how you’ve grown as a student, um, from when they saw you last. Uh, so it definitely is totally fine to ask. In senior year, I just would do that as soon as you come back from school. So I would say, you know, depending upon when that is, you know, mid to late August or early September at the very latest, especially if your application plans include early action, early decision with a November 1st deadline, because you want to ensure that you’re giving that person, you know, I think four weeks is a minimum, uh, to be fair to them.

To get that letter as strong as it could be, um, because it is entirely possible that if you come to the teacher and ask them in mid October, They may say no, and it is often within their right to do so. Uh, you know, schools will have different policies, but generally they allow a teacher to, to be the one to say yes or no, when it comes to writing this letter.

And so you don’t want to be left stranded if you waited, um, too long. And they just don’t have the bandwidth to ultimately, you know, write that letter for you. So again, I was generally, you want at least one letter. By the end of junior year, and then perhaps a second early in senior year, um, most schools, if they are asking for letters of recommendation, will want to see two teacher letters and then a counselor letter.

Um, my favorite and admittedly least helpful answer to any question in during my career and admissions has always been, it depends. Um, so unfortunately, Schools are different, so they do the research and see, um, you know, like, as an example, USC now only, um, will accept one teacher letter in addition to the counselor letter.

Some schools will let you submit more. I would say, generally, more is not always good or necessary, especially if a school doesn’t ask for it. I would say, generally, you do not want to be in the habit of sending schools or sending things to schools that they did not ask for. because I didn’t ask for it for a reason.

Uh, so usually I would say, plan to ask two teachers and then a counselor. Schools also know that again, given the workload, uh, for many public school counselors, they might then lean a bit more heavily on the teacher letter to be fair to you. Um, because there is, I definitely remember reading plenty of applications where the counselor just technically.

You know, checked a box that said, Unfortunately, I don’t know the student well, and I won’t be writing a letter for them, which was fine. And we did not hold that against the student. It just meant that you really turned and you looked a bit more closely at the teacher letters because you didn’t have some of that information from the counselor, which was not a problem at all.

And they understand again. Context is really critical in all of admissions.

So how should you ask? Um. It depends, surprisingly, or unsurprisingly. Generally, I find that asking, just, you know, a polite in person ask after class is best. Because, you know, I think that shows that you value their time if you come up and you ask in person. They also make it harder to say no versus just sending an email, but be sure to follow up with them to confirm and perhaps send any sort of relevant material that they asked for that you think will be relevant to help them write a strong letter.

Um, you know, I would say again, don’t just send an email out of the blue, um, but, you know, establish that, you know, um, you know. Mr. Mr. So, and so I’m thinking of, you know, applying to these kinds of schools next year, and I need a lot of recommendation. I think you really add some value when it comes to this or as I apply to this major and, you know, whatever, um, and then.

When you ask, you know, I would say again. Acknowledge that you understand that it is an ask for them, right? Um, that you acknowledge that it is adding extra work and that it will take them time. Um, and you appreciate that. Um, but again, how much you think they can add value, um, to your application. And I would say, be sure that you think about, well, what happens if they say no?

Um, and who would I ask as alternative? Although maybe don’t lead with the fact that they’re your alternative.

Okay, so we’re going to take a break before we continue back in the presentation and do another quick poll asking, have you started reaching out to potential recommenders? I’m going to open up that poll now. And while you all get a chance to answer that question, um, Aaron, I’m curious, what are you planning on eating for dinner?

Or what did you already eat for dinner? I just went to the grocery store before the webinar. So I have a kind of Southwestern inspired salad that I will be making with some avocado and tomatoes and chicken. Healthy, but not super exciting. The Southwestern makes it sound a little bit better than what it could be.

Yeah, I think I’m gonna have some tilapia for dinner and a smoothie, so nice. I’m keeping it pretty simple and healthy. Perfect. Tuesday night for you. Yeah, exactly. Okay, so Looking at the responses, it’s, everyone said no, but a little bit more people said, slightly more people said that they do know who they want to ask.

Okay, good. Yeah. But no one has asked quite yet, which I guess makes sense. We didn’t have any seniors, um, and the juniors that were in the, are in here, you said, you know, at the latest to talk to them in spring, so. Seems like everyone is on track. Yes.

Awesome. Yeah. So I would say definitely you’re, you’re right on track. Um, And yeah, you know, asking after spring break or again, closer to summer. Totally makes sense. So what should you, provide to teachers and or counselors to help them, um, provide the best possible letter of recommendation for you. Um, it should be different because ultimately from an admissions standpoint, teacher and counselor letters should cover different content.

They have different purposes, right? As I kind of said at the beginning, the teacher letter is much more focused on who you are in the classroom setting, especially in their particular class. And then the counselor letter is a much more kind of broad, big picture of who you are, how you contribute to the school, kind of contextual pieces of information about curriculum and things like that, right?

So for teachers then, because it is a much more narrow focus, I really would not give them a resume because it’s not their job in this letter to, you know, rehash your extracurricular activities. Um, again, unless they, you know, advise a club that you are a part of. Okay. Yeah, absolutely. They have a unique insight then to provide or they’re a coach.

They can speak about, you know, what you’re like on that team. In addition to in their classroom. Um, but ultimately, you know, activities are going to typically come from you in the activity section of the common application, um, as well as, as potentially from the counselor. So I would say that a resume is not necessary for a teacher letter.

What I would suggest doing, though, is, you know, and your school may have a process for this, um, and may have a document that they want you to fill out that includes some of this information. But if they don’t, I would definitely encourage you to write a document, ideally with kind of specific anecdotes from their course, you know, uh, to obviously they know, um, you know, they will remember you as a student, but, you know, is there a particular thing that you really enjoyed?

Um, an assignment that you’re most proud of. How do you believe, you know, you contributed in the class? Um, is there anything unique that you can remember about? Remember that discussion when I said this or we did this or you kind of gave me this feedback that was really positive or even, you know, how I grew from this to here?

Um, just kind of helping to, to do that. in essence jog their memory, but kind of put it all down, um, in one place so that, you know, they have a document to kind of fall back on, um, that gives them some potential places to go for content. For counselors, this is where you would want to submit a resume, um, and ensure that they have access to a list of your activities.

And beyond just, I think, a resume, um, If it can be a bit more detailed or in depth, um, you’re talking much more about, well, what did you do in those things? Um, again, impact that you made that is kind of critical, um, roles that you had and how does one get that? And as you win an election, were you nominated?

How many people, right? Like as much information as you can provide. Can be useful and excuse me, not all of them may end up in the letter, but, you know, it kind of helps to provide kind of that context for the counselor when they’re writing to understand, you know, your different activities and things like that.

And then kind of similar to the teacher document, you can then provide something similar to your counselor about kind of more big picture, right? Um, you know, things that you’re most proud of. across all of high school, not just a particular class. Um, were there particular challenges that you faced during your time in high school that then you think again, if you’re comfortable with them discussing it, that that would provide some additional context to your application.

And so, you know, giving them that, um, you know, what do you think is your greatest achievement? Um, you know, anything that they need to know, um, that you may not have told or that you may not see elsewhere in the application, you know, maybe you live. school and you have to take public transportation and that takes an hour and a half, uh, to get to school, you know.

Three hours a day. So maybe you’re not as involved in extracurricular activities because of that commute. Right. And, you know, a reader, if they look at your application without knowing that information, they think, Oh, well, this person isn’t super involved. They’re not making an impact in their community.

But if they read a letter that says, well, they had to rush to catch this bus to get home at a reasonable hour. Well, that changes things, right? And they read your application in a different context. So give the reader. As much information as possible through the different sources and components of the application, letters of recommendation being an important part of that, that help them understand you as much as possible so that again, they can make a well informed decision about your fit with that particular institution.

So how important are letters in the process? Um, obviously we’ve just talked about it for the last 30 minutes. Uh, we have a webinar on it, you know, so that might insinuate that they’re super important and they are for sure. Uh, but they absolutely are not going to make or break your application. Um, that will not be the reason, um, you know, Ms.

Smith’s letter is not going to be the reason that you’re admitted, nor is it going to be the reason that you are denied. Um, and that really holds true with most components of the application, whether it’s, you know, the essay, um, your extracurricular activities, your transcript, et cetera. all of those pieces work together to ultimately make that final decision.

Um, but these letters do really provide that sort of useful context and insight into who you are in the classroom and how you make an impact, uh, or may make an impact in that college’s community. You know, Schools in the U. S. and especially those that are asking for letters of recommendation tend to be residential, meaning that you are living on or around campus.

Um, pretty much most of your 4 years. As a student. And so, so yes, they are thinking about all the information that I said earlier about, you know, this work on behalf of faculty and what you’re going to contribute in the classroom and all of that. Um, but they also want to know, are you a good person? Right?

Are you going to be a good roommate? Um, are you going to make a positive impact? impact in the community on their campus. And so character, yes, may come through in what you write about, um, maybe reflected in the activities that you choose to pursue. But I often found that when reading letters of recommendation, I got a pretty good sense of who the student was, um, from their teachers or from their counselor.

As again, you, You know, this was an adult who knows this student closely, um, and can really speak to what they’re like, right? Um, in a, uh, in a really helpful manner. So, uh, they can play a useful role there. On the next slide, I’m going to show, um, results. From a survey that was sent to admissions readers.

And this is published by NACAC, which is the unwieldy term. But it is the National Association of College Admission Counseling, which is kind of the professional organization. for both admissions officers on the college side, and then folks like me, high school counselors on the high school side who work in kind of college counseling.

Um, and so this talks a bit about the different pieces of the, um, application and how important they are. So it’s a bit small, so you might have to zoom in. I really squint at the screen. Um, but you can see here that you have all the different kinds of factors that one might consider as a reader, um, that’s presented to you in the application.

And then they’re kind of ranked in the considerable importance column in decreasing order from, you know, most to least important. Now, I will say a caveat here is that, you know, this survey, which, and one hasn’t been done since, to my knowledge, Is from 2019, so it was right before COVID. So you’ll see obviously that test scores are fairly high in a way that likely has decreased since then.

But if you look at, you know, the considerable importance piece. Far and away, it’s your grades, which we would expect. Um, you know, your curricular rigor, your essays, things like that. Um, but you can see right below that is your counselor letter and your teacher letters. They’re both pretty much the same in essence, uh, in terms of how they’re weighted above things like extracurricular activities or an interview.

Um, and then you can see then in terms of moderate importance, um, that, you know, behind extracurricular activities, teacher letters are the next thing, and counselor letters are the next thing. Um, so I would say broadly, this shows that, that yes, they, they definitely add value in the process, um, you know, are important in the process, and, uh, you know, it’s important.

That like with all components of the application, really, that you attempt to maximize everything that you’re submitting or is being submitted on your behalf so that the reader has the most complete picture of who you are and how you’ll contribute at their campus. So any final tips? As I mentioned before, it is absolutely okay if your counselor at a large public school doesn’t know you well.

Um, readers understand this. Context is key. Um, you’ve heard me say the word context, uh, probably, you know, 20 different times tonight, um, because that is really so critically important and readers know this. And so again, um, teacher letters will take on, you know, in essence, greater significance and will, um, you know, kind of make up for a council letter that really isn’t there or it’s clear that they don’t know you.

Be sure to ask early. Um, and, and most importantly, you know, look to make genuine connections with your teachers, um, and really engage with the material because when they see you light up and get thrilled. About a particular topic that you’re discussing, that’s going to turn out to be a really awesome anecdote in the letter, much more so than you consistently memorized material on the tests, right?

Um, they’re looking for. Intellectual engagement when they’re reading your application. Um, and so the way that you engage with material in high school helps the reader get a sense of that. So if you’re doing that in the classroom and talking with your teachers about it, um, that’s definitely going to help ensure that you end up with a awesome letter of recommendation.

So, at this point, I believe we’re going to bring back Lydia and have some time for Q&A. Yes, we’re going to jump into the question and answer portion of the sessions. Thank you so much, Aaron, for doing that presentation. I hope that all of you at home found the information helpful. And remember that you can download the slides from the link in the handouts tab.

So now that we’re moving into live and Q&A, I’m going to read through the questions that you all have submitted, paste them into the public chat so you can see and then read them out loud before a presenter can answer. So as a heads up, if your Q&A tab isn’t letting you submit questions, just double check that you joined the webinar through the custom link in your email.

So for our first question, Aaron, that I want to ask you. Is, how should a student follow up with a teacher after they requested a letter, the teacher said yes, but they can see that it hasn’t been submitted and the deadline is approaching? That’s fair. Um, I definitely get a lot of worried emails from students and occasionally from parents as the deadlines approach.

Um, again, I think each school in terms of high school may handle it a bit differently, right? So, Um, the kind of college counselor, if you have one, might be kind of overseeing that process. And so they might have a deadline for the teachers to get it to them. Um, and so maybe ask your college counselor first, um, because we definitely will sometimes have to go kind of track down teachers and hound them to be like, Hey, is this coming?

And, and we find that oftentimes it. That can be better if it comes from us. Um, but I would say, you know, if you’re a week out from a deadline and you don’t see anything, it might be worth asking. Um, the other thing to keep in mind is pretty much universally. And again, it, it depends. Michigan is an example, University of Michigan is an example of a school that doesn’t do this, but pretty much everyone else, as long as you click submit by the deadline and your common app and you know, all of the rest of those materials in terms of your writing supplement and all of that, as long as that is in on time, you’re considered complete and on time.

Now they may not be able to start reading your application until everything comes in, but if you’re, You know, teacher letters, if your council letter, if your transcript roll in a couple of days after the deadline, not a problem at all. Um, you know, oftentimes when I was at USC, we get a lot of really freaked out emails from students about, Oh my gosh, did I miss the deadline?

My transcript hasn’t arrived yet. And it was like, Nope, you’re good. And also, we’re very much used to, um, a world of things being instantaneous. Um, so, you know, the, especially around the deadline, a lot of data is kind of squeezing through pipes from the common app to a school. And that takes time. So it’s entirely possible that you.

Even if something was submitted on time, it’s not going to show up in your portal for that school until days after the deadline, once it’s processed. And that’s totally normal. So don’t freak out. Everything’s fine. Send a respectful followup, but it’s not going to mean that you’re getting denied. I promise you.

Um, and it’ll, it’ll get there. Makes sense. Another question that we’ve got is, is there a standard for all university recommendation letters, including Ivy League? I’m assuming they mean in terms of format or questions that are supposed to be answered. Not really. Um, you know, whatever one best tells the reader about, you know, who you are.

Um, and again, your contributions in and out of the classroom, depending upon who’s writing it, um, what you’re like as a student or as a person. Um, there’s. You know, kind of a debate makes it sound a bit more intense than it is a friendly discussion amongst admission officers and college counselors and in the industry right now about like our bullet point letters.

Okay. Um, there’s kind of a movement. Towards that, given the fact that readers have to read a lot of applications, since maybe they’re just looking for, okay, what are some of the highlights, right? Um, Others are like, no, the narrative is really critical to telling the story of who the student is. And you definitely have people who have hard feelings on either side of that debate.

Um, but no, there’s not really a standard, um, or something that must be done, whether you’re applying to, you know, the most competitive school, um, or not. Um, As long as that letter ultimately contributes something more, uh, in terms of who you are and, and, uh, what you’re like as a student. Okay. So another question that we have is my counselor has changed three times throughout high school.

Is it okay for me to ask someone besides my counselor, like a coach? or a manager at a job. And I’d like to add to that. Let’s say that a student doesn’t have two teachers that they have a strong relationship. Is it okay for them to do a teacher and a coach or a teacher and a club sponsor instead? So replacing one of those counselor or teacher roles.

Um, it depends as, as we discuss, uh, check the website, um, you know, of schools because some of them do have fairly strict requirements about how many letters and what the makeup of those letters are. They might say, we need to, and those two have to be from core academic subjects, and they list out what counts as a core academic subject, right?

So, you know, take a look at that, um, and kind of, you know, see, um, what they might be asking, because they might say, no, you need to have two teachers. And so in that case, You need to have two teachers versus a teacher and a coach or something. Other schools are a bit more flexible and again they typically, you know, lay this out on their website and they say, you know, one teacher and then one person who knows you best, um, or knows you in another capacity.

So that could be a second teacher, could be a coach, could be a manager at your job, um, all kinds of different things that could be. Um, and I would say most schools kind of fall into that category where the second letter can be from anyone. It often ends up being a teacher, but it could be someone else.

Um, and they usually spell that out on their website. In terms of the counselor letter. Um, yeah, so the counselor also is the way that you’re kind of, your transcript is submitted, uh, as well as something called a school report, which the common app, you know, or is included with the common app and the counselor will.

Be asked to fill out some kind of data driven questions, um, about your graduating class. You know, how many people are in it? How many APs does your school offer? Like some stuff like that, right? And so that kind of has to happen. And even if it’s a new counselor, it’s information that they’re going to know, they just might end up checking that box that says, I don’t know the students and I can’t provide a written recommendation, but all the other information they will upload and submit.

Um, And obviously your manager or coach doesn’t have that information and can’t really do that. Um, so I would say again, even if you do have that time where it’s a third counselor in three years, and I feel for you, um, they’re going to fill out some pretty useful information that they kind of have to do.

Um, and then your teacher letters will obviously, you know, be the stand in for that. And it’s totally okay. Um, you know, I really want to reiterate totally. Okay. Um, readers know that. Um, and we talked about that a lot when we were training readers about the importance of reading applications in context and, and really ensuring that ultimately we’re trying to, you know, benefit the student.

Right. Um, when you’re reading an application, it’s like, well, how do you approach it in a way that benefits the student? Um, you know, these are humans reading your application who, um, you know, are nice people. I want to say yes. Oftentimes at really competitive places, they don’t have the space to say yes, but that’s how they’re reading an application.

They’re building the case to say yes. And it may not happen, but that’s how they’re reading your application, right? And so, you know, all that to say the counselor letter and kind of the school report all kind of fit into this bucket and there’s information that has to go into it, but it’s totally okay if the counselor can’t submit a letter.

They’re going to look at other places and that’s going to be just fine.

So another question that we’ve got is a student concerned about a teacher potentially using the same recommendation letter for everyone as a former teacher. I never did this, but I did have a colleague that did that. So what happens if two students apply to the same school and all of them have the same letter of recommendation?

I mean, In some ways, obviously, as a reader, it’s kind of frustrating because like, well, I can’t use that in the same way if it’s literally exactly the same, where you can see it’s copy and copy and pasted, um, and the name has changed. But, um, again, you’re not going to really hold that against the student.

It’s just kind of like an opportunity that’s been missed, um, because you’re not getting new additional information. via that letter. Um, so, you know, if you have a sense that that’s the case, I might then ask a different person. That’s good to know. So maybe ask your upperclassmen any questions about that, just to be sure.

Yeah. So, We’ll just take a quick pause from the Q&A. We are going to return to it to let you all know that the CollegeAdvisors team, over 300 former admissions officers like Aaron and admissions experts like myself, are ready to help you and your family navigate the college admissions process and one on one advising sessions.

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45 to 60 minute strategy session with an admissions specialist on our team using the QR code on the screen and it will remain up there when we go to the next slide. During this meeting you’ll receive a preliminary assessment of your academic profile along with some initial recommendations. At the end you’ll also learn more about the premium packages we offer that pair you with an expert who could support you in building your college list, editing your essays, and much more.

So now we’re going to go back to the Q&A. So another question that we have is our recommendations letter supposed to be different for different types of applications. So let’s say a student has a really strong relationship with the teacher. They’re applying to colleges, but then they also need letter of recommendations for scholarships that they’re applying to that aren’t tied to a school.

Um, potentially, yes. So, you know, I think often a lot of the content can be recycled for sure. You know, that kind of fundamentals about who you are, uh, don’t change, but I think it’s important to look at, like, if you’re applying to a scholarship program, um, you know, how, kind of what are the values of that scholarship and often it’s kind of right there on on the page, right?

We’re looking for these kinds of things or how you’ve contributed in these kinds of ways. Um, so it might be helpful to give the teacher or your counselor, um, you know, a link to that page or kind of information about, you know, You know, what is important to that scholarship committee, which, again, they often spell out right on their Web page or, you know, in the materials for that scholarship.

So they can perhaps tailor a letter that perhaps, um, you know, more specifically highlights some of those characteristics that are important. Um, if their letter, you know. Maybe have just would have touched on them but didn’t really kind of go into depth in a way that might be valuable in the context of that scholarship.

Another question we have is per students who moved a lot or are military rats, what should they do in order to develop a strong letter of recommendation since they didn’t get a chance to really Build strong bonds with any of their teachers because of constantly moving, um, you know, I, I think, I guess, again, it depends on like, how often you’re moving, you know, when, where are you now, um, if you were at an institution for it, I would hope at least a semester.

That can still probably lead to a pretty good letter of recommendation, um, and it can be possible for a teacher from a school that you no longer. Attend. To submit a letter on your behalf. Um, so, you know, say, you know, you moved right to the beginning of your senior year. Um, it’s possible that a teacher from junior year, uh, could in fact, you know, write an application or write a letter on your behalf.

So there are ways to kind of have that happen. Um, so, you know, I would say that that’s a potential possibility in the sense that it doesn’t just have to be the school that you go to now. In terms of submitting a teacher letter. Um, so that’s a possibility. Um, again, I would suggest. You provide some of that context.

So there’s something in the common application. There’s a section called additional information, um, where it has its name implies, uh, additional information. So you could say, you know, unfortunately, I’ve moved a lot and the longest I’ve been out of school is, you know, This long, and I haven’t really had the opportunity to develop relationships with teachers in the way that I would have liked, um, to just kind of give the reader some of that context, um, and then, you know, you can ask your senior year teachers, um, that even if you, you know, just will have met them, uh, in the fall and, you know, they’ll, they’ll still be able to give something that I think can provide value.

Makes sense. So another question we have is, is it a faux pas to ask to see the letter of recommendation that a teacher wrote? Maybe the student is anxious that maybe there aren’t some positive things in there for whatever reason. Yeah. So, um, I wouldn’t ask to see it necessarily, um, after it’s been written, because yeah, that’s kind of not the best look.

Um, a teacher or a counselor may give it to you, you know, kind of just on their own, you know. Um, but there’s a part of the application in the common app. that you have to select, um, around FERPA, which is called the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which is a federal law here, of course, in the United States that governs how Institutions hold data in your name, like any kind of record that they have, whether it’s your transcript, whether it’s the courses you’re enrolled in, key swipes into a building technically count.

I mean, literally everything held by a school with identifying information to you and your admission application counts. And when you’re filling out the application, when you start in Common App, it says, I waive or I don’t waive my rights. To view the letters submitted on my behalf, and you have to answer that question before submitting applications, you know, before adding school to your list.

I mean, it’s kind of like a, you have to do it, um, and I will say that 99 percent of students check the box that says, I waive. If you don’t, the admission officer reads that letter in a different way than they would otherwise. Because they don’t know, did you write it? How involved were you in this process?

It changes the calculus and trust kind of inherent in this process. Um, so generally, And by generally, I mean like 99 percent of you’ll not see the letter. Um, and you’ll probably say, yes, I waive my rights to view that letter. Um, so ask someone who likes you. Um, you know, I would say that generally, um, you know, I know of teachers who have come to me as a college counselor and said, I’ve been asked.

I don’t have good things to say about this student. Can we work together to find someone else for them? Right? They’re adults. Uh, they’re professionals. Um, I think you’re not going to find teachers who are going to write disparaging things, uh, about you in the letter. I would say as a former teacher, that’s usually true.

If I don’t have that many positive things to say, I would usually just say something along the lines of, I don’t think I know you that well, or there aren’t that many positive experiences I can pull from. I don’t want to have to say something. Negative or just say something really generic. I think that’s how most teachers would handle it.

Um, and the last question that I have is what should a student do if their teacher is willing to write them a letter of recommendation but says they don’t know them that well or ask them to write the recommendation for them because they are so busy? If they say yes, but they then acknowledge they don’t know you that well, and I would say, you know, oh, you know, thanks.

I really appreciate the offer and that you’re willing to do it for me. But then I would probably see if I could ask somebody else because again, it’s kind of like. It’s a missed opportunity, right? So then I might look to try and find someone else who is going to add that value that you’re seeking, um, in the application.

Um, in terms of writing it for them, I mean, ideally that shouldn’t happen because you also have just signed a form that said that you’re not going to view it, let alone write it. Um, So, you know, again, I would probably ask somebody else in that context. All right. Well, thank you so much, Aaron, for taking the time to present to us today.

I know I learned a lot and thank you everyone who attended for coming out tonight. We really had a great time. I hope you learned as much as I did. Thank you. So that is the end of our webinar. We had a really great time telling you all about how to get strong teacher recommendations. Here is our March series so that you can continue to learn more about the college application process.

Thank you all so much and enjoy the rest of your nights. Good night.