Q: I am working on my college applications and I need two teacher recommendations. I don’t know what major I want to be, so how do I pick which subject teachers to ask? My best grades are in math, but I’m not really friendly with any of my math teachers. I really get along well with my junior year history teacher, but I only got an 88 in that class. What should I do?
A: The first thing you want to do is not wait too long to ask your teachers for letters! It is never a good idea to ask at the last minute. You must realize that your teachers are going to be very busy near application deadlines – most applications are due January 1, although early deadlines will come on Nov. 1 and Nov. 15. They may be able to write only a certain number, so ask soon.
Unless students are applying to engineering school, which require a letter from a math teacher, they can ask teachers from ANY academic subject. It is best to ask teachers from two different subjects, so the admissions readers will gain two different perspectives about you. And it’s best to ask teachers with whom you have a solid relationship. Therefore, it is preferable for you to have a letter from the history who likes you, than from a math teacher who barely knows you, even if you earned a 97 in that class.
Admissions readers can see the actual grades on the transcript. These letters ought to tell them things that are NOT on the transcript. Letters from teachers should stress a student’s learning style, contributions in class, intellectual curiosity and attitude towards the subject.
I suggest that you ask two teachers – perhaps one from this year and one from last year – to write on your behalf. Do not ask teachers from 9th or 10th grades – that goes back too far, and will make admissions officers wonder why you have not approached more recent teachers. Ask teachers who know you and like you. And don’t forget to thank them in writing once you start getting your college acceptances!