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Teacher recs, JUNIORS, why you should ask for them this winter
Written by Jack Delehey on November 5th 2021
As we head into holiday season, I’ve decide to write a couple of blogs that will all fall under this category:

“What, as a parent, can I possibly casually bring up with my high school child while I have their undivided attention, when they are home, at the kitchen table, with nowhere to run because it’s holiday season?”

I’ve written a few of these in the past and parents seem to have enjoyed them a lot. So here goes round 1!
Who the remainder of this blog is best for: Parents of HS Juniors
Who this blog also will offer insight for (but no immediate action is needed): Parents of HS sophomores, parents of HS freshman
Who this blog could possibly help: Parents of HS seniors (if you are self-aware and know you are very, very behind the game. Otherwise, teacher recs are a thing of the past for your child & have been signed, sealed, delivered to colleges already).

Before I get into the title of this blog, let’s take a step back and start with the basics when it comes to teacher recs:

What are teacher recommendation letters?
If a student wants to apply to college (and if you are reading this, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you have a child who does, eventually, want to apply to college), then they’ll have to ask actual, living, adults to write a letter of recommendation for them. These letters of recommendation will then find their way into your child’s file at each college and will be read when the admission committee reads your child’s entire application.
What recs are required?
Typically colleges request the following:
  • 1 mandatory guidance counselor letter of recommendation
  • 2 mandatory high school teacher letters of recommendation
  • ​1 optional “other” recommendation (could be a HS sports coach, an adult outside of school that works with your child etc.). Optional really does mean optional here. This is not mandatory.
How important are these letters of recommendation?
Remember the 4 tiers of college admission? Refresher:
  • HS Grades
  • Standardized Test Scores
  • ​College Essay
  • ​"Your Story"
Teacher recs aren’t in the top 4. But if you don’t submit them, you’ll 100% get rejected. It varies school to school but they’re likely somewhere between a tier 5 and tier 10 level of importance for most colleges.

So who should my child ask?
You’ll hear a lot from college admissions professionals in this category. Here are things I hear often:
  • “You can only ask teachers who have taught you Junior year”
  • “You have to ask one Math teacher and one English teacher”
  • ​“You can only ask teachers who taught a class you got an A in”
To the above, I kindly, but emphatically will tell you “False, false, false.” My strong opinion, and one I have seen lead to some of the most incredible, tear-inducing, meaningful teacher recs you could imagine, is the following:

Your child should ask the teachers with whom they truly, deep down, have the best relationship with.

That’s it. There are no other rules.

Now, if your child can split teachers between Math/Science & English/Social Studies, that’s great. It will help show a balance. But far and away, the most important characteristic is that a teacher actually likes your child, knows your child, and is willing to spend serious time sitting at a computer, probably on their summer vacation, gladly writing a meaningful letter for your child. Rec letters do require a lot of work! So it’s important a teacher actually wants to complete that work because they have a good relationship with your child.
Now to the title of this blog: Teacher recs, JUNIORS, why you should ask for them this winter

So now that you know the ins and outs of teacher recs, why on earth should HS juniors already be thinking of them now, basically two entire years before they’ll actually step foot on campus? There are two main reasons:
  • The teachers who will write the best rec letters will get asked first...and they can’t write 100 of them. You know how to be in the group of students a teacher says “yes” to vs. “No, sorry, I’ve already committed to writing 8 and I can’t take on any more”? You ask early.
  • Small wins early = momentum in the college planning process in general. Parents often ask me what students I work with, who are the most successful in my program, and do so with the least stress. The answer? Those who notch several “quick wins” under their belt early in the college planning process. These students see early successes...and then want more of them. Setting off a chain reaction for the remainder of high school, giving them motivation that “Hey, this isn’t so hard after all...I can do this.” Want to know an easy quick win? Staying after class one day and saying to your teacher, “Mrs. XYZ, I really enjoy your class. You have changed my life for the better. It’s still way off in the future, but when it does come time for me to apply to college, would you be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me?” The teacher will be honored...and your child will come home beaming, knowing they have officially gained a small win on the larger college planning scale. Momentum has officially begun.
And just so you know, when I say winter, I don’t mean now. A student can ask too early and now would be too early. You should target the February timeframe to actually ask. But you can certainly start the conversation with your child this holiday time at the kitchen table:

“Who would you consider asking for a teacher rec?”

That question will get the thoughts going over the next few months and I think will lead to some positive results.

I hope this was helpful for parents of HS juniors out there. If you do have more questions regarding teacher recommendations or just want to discuss the college planning process in general don’t hesitate to reach out (or pass the link onto a family who could use it!). I can’t guarantee we’ll be a fit...but that’s why my first college planning strategy session is always complimentary--it’s important we determine the right next steps for your child, whether that’s working with me, on your own, or with someone else.

Happy college-searching,
Committed to helping students & parents experience a stress-free college search

P.S. - I’m trying a new thing here. To help/(kind of reward?) my subscribers who actually read this whole thing, here (or click image below) is a sneak peak into my entire video on all things teacher recs. This is the exact video my paying members have access to when their child gets to winter of their junior year. It’s a little over 30 minutes and I go into everything you need to know about teacher recs, well beyond what I covered in this blog. I ask one favor: that you don’t go sharing this with the world...after all, I like to give my students a leg-up in life...but it’s my hope this can help some of you out there who want the best for your high schooler.

Jack Delehey

Jack Delehey (Vanderbilt '14) is a college admissions expert originally from Concord, MA and now resides in Denver, CO.  It is his goal to pass on his college admission knowledge, strategies, and unique perspective to high school students in a young, fun, relatable, older-brother type manner.

The college application process is often confusing and stressful. But it just doesn't have to be that way! If you are interested in gaining clarity, peace of mind, and a detailed step-by-step program to help your child through the college application process, reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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