The Art of Acquiring Teacher Recommendations


Photo by Elenna Mach

Students have to navigate the difficult process of finding teachers who know them well. “At first I had no idea who to ask,” senior Colin Carroll (above) said.

Gili Golan, Features Managing Editor

One of the most crucial parts of the college application process is the teacher recommendations that most colleges and universities require so admissions officers can get to know an applicant with reflections from a reliable source.

While teachers are generally more than happy to write a recommendation for their students, there are occasions when a teacher feels the need to deny a student’s request because they do not know them well enough, which can prove to be detrimental to less outgoing students. The process is time consuming for teachers and can prove challenging for students as they navigate which teachers are the best to ask.

Personalities cannot be changed, and some students prefer to come to school, get their work done and go home, leaving them with less time and frankly less drive to go out of their comfort zones and reach out to teachers to get to know them on a deeper level.

For senior Colin Carroll, who will attend University of Maryland next fall, the memory of struggling to decide which teachers to ask for his recommendations seems to linger.

“At first I had no idea who to ask. I wanted to ask an English teacher because I felt that they would be able to write the best letter, but at that point I didn’t really have a bond with any English teacher or felt that they knew me,” Carroll said.

For someone like Carroll, who has already gone through the entire rigorous college application process, remembering the specifics can be difficult, but for junior Zoe Shugars who is currently gathering application materials, she is having difficulty expressing her personality to her teachers, even though her grades speak for themselves.

“What I will struggle with is trying to have an active part in class and talking more so the teachers have more information to write their letter with,” Shugars said.

Although students in this stage of their college applications have to trust their teachers enough to construct a well-written recommendation, they never really know how prepared or equipped teachers are to write an accurate recommendation. Due to this uncertainty, some students must alter the way that they normally conduct themselves in class so that they interact more than they normally would.

One of the most popular teachers at RHS who receives many recommendation requests is English teacher, yearbook adviser and drama director Krista McKim. During her first year at RHS, McKim wrote over 50 recommendation letters for students, and she quickly realized it was too much to handle. McKim’s outgoing personality and drive to form relationships with her students is what attracts many–even naturally introverted students–to request these recommendations.

Since then, McKim, along with several other teachers who are popular choices for recommendation letters such as technology teacher David Baker, have developed an easy and efficient technique to decide which students to write them for while keeping the number to a large, yet manageable amount of about 30 letters.

“I tell all my students two weeks in advance that I will put on some survey questions on Google Classroom and I will take the first 30 who fill it out,” McKim said.

McKim implemented this new process in the 2017-18 school year, her second year at RHS. Since then, she has effectively been able to keep the number of recommendations she writes to a more practical number so that she can truly put all her effort and thoughts into each one, she said.  

After reassurances that every teacher in the building does everything they can do to write the best letter that they can, McKim leaves future students looking for recommendations with a piece of advice.

“Understand how much time it costs to write a good recommendation letter,” she said, “and give us plenty of time in advance and a thank you note goes a long way.”