Different colleges require a different number of teacher evaluations. Here are a few different permutations we've seen before:
As you can see, some schools are really particular about exactly what type of teacher recommendations they want. Others are more flexible. Make sure to read up on the schools you're applying to so you can make sure to hit their requirements.
Once you know what sorts of teachers you can pick from, it's time to get a little bit strategic. Should you choose that one teacher who gave you a C- in basket weaving back in the 9th grade? Um… nope.
These are the questions you need to ask yourself before asking a teacher to write you a rec:
1. When did they teach you? You've probably changed a little bit since freshman year. And college admission officers expect that. How well you did in a 9th grade class doesn't necessarily say a whole lot about how well you'll do as a college frosh. So it's best to pick a teacher who taught you in 11th grade. Why? Because you haven't been with your 12th grade teachers for very long yet, and 10th grade is already pretty far in the past. So 11th grade really hits the sweet spot. That said, if the same teacher taught you during two years in school (say, 10th and 12th grades), that teacher could be a great alternative option.
2. What subject did they teach you? Overall, it's best to pick a teacher who taught you in a core academic subject. You know: math, science, English, social studies. Admission officers are using the evaluation to get a sense of how well you do in school in general, and these subjects tend to be viewed as the most "rigorous." If you are allowed more than one teacher evaluation, then you might consider your brilliant chorus teacher or your awesome track coach.
3. What grade did you earn in their class? This should be pretty obvious, but… pick a teacher whose class you did well in. Really, go for a teacher who gave you an A. If you're applying to a very selective college, choose a teacher who taught you an AP, IB, or honors class (if advanced-level classes are available at your high school).
4. How well do they know you? It’s a good idea to choose a teacher who really knows and has worked closely with you; someone who has seen you grow and change. Often the best recommendations are those that describe how a student has improved over time.
5. How long have they been teaching? Teacher evaluation forms often ask teachers some basic questions about themselves, including what classes they teach and how long they've been teaching. A teacher who's been in the classroom for 25 years and calls you one of the five best students of her entire career will carry a lot more weight with admission officers than another teacher who's only taught for two years but also speaks glowingly about you. Still, it's more important that the teacher really supports you than that they've had a long career.
It can be really hard to ask favors of people, especially if they're intimidating authority figures. Luckily, teachers get paid an average of $142 per letter of recommendation they write. Oh, wait. Actually, they get paid nothing and get to write those things late at night or on the weekends. So… why would a teacher want to write a recommendation for you? Here's why:
But, as you know, teachers have a lot on their plates, what with teaching full-time and all. Help make their lives easier:
Make it easy for someone to do you a favor. Gently, gently remind your recommenders when the deadline to submit an evaluation is one or two weeks away. A lot of colleges have online systems that will tell you when your application materials have been received. The only problem with this system is that it often takes a college weeks to process and sort through all of the application materials they receive. So don’t freak out if the college is telling you that they haven’t received your teacher evaluations, but your teachers tell you that they have submitted them.
Keep your teachers updated on your college process! They will be interested to hear how things turn out.
Finally, you should thank your teachers. Completing an evaluation is a labor of love. Check out How to Thank Your Recommenders for some ideas.