Who to ask for recommendations: 8 things to consider

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When it comes time to gather recommendations, the biggest question you may have is, who should you ask? Generally, it's a good idea to approach 3 people for recommendations. Double check your applications to see if there are specific requirements you should follow.


Here are a few key things to consider when deciding who to ask for a recommendation:


Someone you had a good relationship with. If you enjoyed their class and their company, chances are they think you were a pretty cool student too.


How well you did in the class. There are many other factors to consider when thinking about who to ask for recommendations, but it does help if you did fairly well in the class.


How long you've known them. Someone you've known several years will be able to write you a better recommendation than someone who's known you for only the first few weeks of your senior year. It's best if you can choose someone who has known you at least since junior year.


Challenging courses. Colleges want evidence that you can handle college work. Your grades are one way to show this, but you might also be able to show this through a recommendation by asking teachers who taught challenging courses to write a recommendation for you.


Core subjects. Generally, you should ask one or more teachers who taught you in a core subject. These include math, English, science, and social science (this includes a range of subjects from history to psychology to economics).


Subjects you think you'll major in. If you are clear in your application that you want to major in biology, it would be a good idea to get a recommendation from a biology (or other science) teacher if you did well in the class and have a good relationship with the teacher. Likewise, if you want to major in theater, you could ask your drama teacher.


Good writers. It may be no surprise, but English teachers generally tend to be very good writers. You want to find someone that can make the case to the college that you are worthy of their school. Science and math teachers often do not fall into the "good writer" category - though that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask a science or math teacher for a recommendation (especially if you're going to a technology institute). Just be aware that how they write it can matter just as much as what they write.


People who didn't teach you. You don't necessarily have to limit yourself to teachers you've had classes with (unless the application specifically states this). Think of teachers or other adults you have come in contact with while you were in high school. Have you volunteered with any teachers? Been a teacher’s aide? Started a club under the supervision of a teacher? Make sure at least one recommendation is from a teacher you took a class with, but you can also ask someone like a coach, a supervisor from an internship or job, or a school counselor. 


Remember, just because you received an “A” in a class doesn’t mean that teacher will be able to write a good recommendation. Make sure you consider other factors in order to get the best recommendations possible.


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