The Best Way to Ask Teachers for a Rec

Get set, Juniors. You’ve been liberated. If higher education is in your immediate plans, the college counseling has officially opened the annual season of recommendation-hunting. Don’t take it lightly; it’s an important aspect of your application process.

Colleges have been asking for teacher recommendation letters since ancient Greece. Known as litterae commendaticiae, or “letters of commendation,” clients have been asking older patrons to vouch for them for centuries.

Litterae commedaticiae or “letters of commendation” date back to ancient Greece.

Today, at SAS, students emulate the same energy: it’s March and juniors are already stressing about teachers that they are are going to ask for recs. With senior year and college applications coming in quick, teacher recs are pretty much the first thing to check off the list as they plan for the future. And, let’s face it, many of us are already planning for the future.

According to College Vine, letters of recommendation are most important when it comes to small private colleges, specifically those that have “holistic” admission philosophies. For SAS students, these schools are often their target or reach schools. That’s probably why asking teachers for a rec and making sure that they have good things to say is so stressful for us. As a junior myself, I’ve always wondered how I should go about asking a teacher for a rec letter. Do you just suck it up and say it? Do you talk around it until they finally get the message? Do you bring food to bait them? With all these conflicting methods, it seems like there’s a million ways to get it wrong, and only one way to get it right.

Small private colleges.

To find the answers to my questions, I decided to ask Mr. Curnett, an English teacher at SAS who writes between 20 and 30 recommendation letters each year. Although it’s hard for him to put a number on how long he actually spends writing each one of these letters, he says that that letters take “between something like 90 minutes and 3 hours.” Although he usually has many letters to write, he takes his time when writing each one. For him, writing letters is a process: “It’s not linear, like sometimes I’ll write a draft and come back to it. So, it’s not like I sit for three hours to write one…it’s organic.” With this mindset, it’s clear that he always has the students’ best interests in mind.

When asked about which teachers students should ask to write their recs, Mr. Curnett emphasizes the importance of asking those who know you well. Rather than just writing about your grades, it’s crucial that they have other things to write about you, as this can help to paint a more accurate picture of your character.

“…it’s not like I sit for three hours to write one…it’s organic.”

Mr. Curnett, English teacher at SAS

As a junior, most of us don’t even know where to begin when it comes to asking teachers to write our recs. Most of us wonder whether we should bribe them with chocolate or bring them subway cookies. To keep it simple, Mr. Curnett says: “There’s never anything wrong with being polite.” It really comes down to that. Students are obviously nervous when it comes down to it, but it’s important to keep in mind that all teachers are looking for is for you to be kind and appreciative. In fact, a tip from Mr. Curnett is to inform those teachers who wrote your letters of which colleges you’ve been accepted at and thank them for doing you a favor — because that’s exactly what a recommendation letter is: a huge favor from someone who has seen your learning grow and your habits evolve in the classroom. So, make sure to treat your teachers the way they deserve to be treated.

“There’s never anything wrong with being polite.”

Mr. Curnett, English teacher at SAS

Moreover, as someone who has written many rec letters throughout his years teaching at SAS, Mr. Curnett’s approach is always to make sure that the student stands out among thousands of other rec letters. He says that “the goal is to show how they’re different and unique and special.” We all know that the college admissions process is rigorous and time-consuming, but most of all, it’s incredibly difficult. For students planning to apply to the American universities, this process is exponentially competitive. Admissions officers read hundreds of these letters, so it’s vital that yours is unique to your character as both an academic student and a person.

Ultimately, Mr. Curnett highlights that people think teacher recommendation letters are much more important than they really are. He, like many other teachers, reminds us that the recommendation letters are there to elaborate on the unique facets of your character — one that goes beyond just letter grades on a report card. There’s no need to act differently than you normally would in class, let alone bend over backwards or suck up excessively to your teachers. Do what you can to help others, and stay true to yourself. It’s important to keep this in mind as we head into the college-application process, fellow juniors.

Author: Zi Hui Lim

Zi Hui Lim is currently a junior at SAS, and this is her first year working for The Eye. She is from Singapore and spent most of her childhood here, but she lived in London for two years before coming back to Singapore and attending SAS as a third grader. In her free time, she likes to drink bubble tea (but only from Each a Cup) and hang out with friends!! She can be reached at lim42384@sas.edu.sg.

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