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That’s why most colleges require letters of recommendations, through which they learn about your personality, strengths, attitude, character, level of maturity, and special interests.

These letters have a very powerful influence on admissions officers’ decisions, so it’s important you choose a teacher who knows you well and views you favorably.

4 guidelines for choosing recommenders for college applications:

  • Approach teachers who know you well. If none come to mind, you should start to build these relationships immediately.
  • Select teachers from your junior or senior year. Colleges like a recent impression of the student.
  • Consider asking teachers whose subject may relate to a future area of study. For example, students who plan on studying engineering should ask a math or physical science teacher. A student interested in communications should ask an English teacher.
  • Choose teachers who can comment upon your growth and willingness to work and improve. Colleges are more interested in a student’s work ethic than natural ability.

Start the recommendation process early

Approach teachers early, at least two months before the deadline. Many senior year teachers are flooded with requests for recommendations. Students who procrastinate may find these teachers are already overcommitted or unable to get the recommendations written on time.

Be clear about how the letter will be sent to the colleges. At some high schools, teachers file their letters in the guidance office and they are sent to the colleges along with school records. If your school does not do this, provide the teacher with a stamped, addressed envelope for each college.

Colleges may require additional recommendations

Some schools ask applicants to provide supplemental references, such as a peer or an employer. The key is to select someone who you are close to that can offer a unique perspective about you that is not covered elsewhere. It is also important to pick someone who you know can write well. Be sure to let them know why you are asking, and give them an idea about what you expect from the recommendation.