Anyone, no matter how selfless, can and will sing praises of themselves if it means having a shot at admittance to their dream school. The personal statement allows students to make themselves be heard in a unique way, and highlight aspects of themselves that they feel is important. However, to have someone else praise you- whether for your work, determination, character, or other qualities- is much more difficult. For a teacher, mentor, or coach to really feel comfortable recommending a student, their connection must be very tight.
The first step in getting a letter of recommendation is finding someone some one that knows you well. Although doing well grade-wise in a particular teacher’s class cannot hurt your chances of getting a recommendation, this is not the only aspect that goes into a teacher’s consideration; from my personal experience, I have found that forming a personal connection is almost more important. The more time you spend with your mentor or teacher, the better they will get to know who you are as an individual. Your transcript will speak on behalf of your grades, so you don’t want to waste a letter of recommendation on simply repeating your statistics. Stay after class, strike up conversation, meet outside of lecture to go over problems- these are all ways to show your dedication to academics and form a mutual bond with your teacher. Of course, do not force this process, just let it happen; if it doesn’t, you may need to reconsider who to ask for a recommendation. If possible, try to find someone that is close to your family, and that you see outside of school. In my case, I asked my tennis coach, who had met my family and knew my parents’ heritage- so his recommendation was very unique in that it highlighted my diverse family. All of these steps form the foundation for a potential recommendation, and should be thought of much in advance of when your letter is needed.
Next, make sure to ask in advance! Timing is essential for recommendations for a number of reasons. Firstly, if asking a popular teacher or coach, you will want to beat out potential classmates and peers in asking so that your recommender can be focused in spending time writing your letter. Also, more importantly, asking early shows that you are well organized, and is courteous to your recommender because they will not cram a letter like you inevitably do your writing assignments. Not only will this give your recommender time to craft a good letter, but also will keep you sane and not running around in late December asking for a recommendation.
Finally, remember that writing letters of recommendations are not required of teachers, they will do this purely of their own desire- so thank them! It’s a huge commitment to take time out of one’s day to help another and not get anything in return. Show your recommender your appreciation by writing a thoughtful card, or maybe getting them dinner at their favorite restaurant. Your thank you doesn’t have to be anything big, just show them that you are appreciative in the work they have done for you.
Do not expect to have teachers lining up asking to write you a recommendation. Be proactive in developing relationships with your mentors, and don’t be afraid to make the leap of asking for a letter. Most all professionals will have recommended an individual for whatever opportunity the individual is hoping to achieve- you won’t be the first. It may not come immediately or easily, but stick in there and soon enough you may have the special letter that sways your dream college’s review committee from rejection to admission!