6 Tips for Choosing an Instructor to Write Your Teacher Recommendation Letter

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A female student communicating with her professor while walking.

6 Tips for Choosing an Instructor to Write Your Teacher Recommendation Letter

Why is a teacher recommendation letter important?

A teacher recommendation letter is one of the most impactful parts of your college application. With thousands or tens of thousands of applicants to consider, admissions officers have a limited amount of time to get the most accurate picture of who you are and whether you’re a good match for the school.

Although test scores, GPAs, and other parts of your application provide valuable information about applicants, admissions officers rely on teacher recommendation letters to provide a more in-depth, comprehensive, and revealing perspective of the person behind the application. After all, a lot of the academic information on your application doesn’t shed any light on who you are.

Admissions officers trust the opinions of teachers for a few important reasons. First and foremost, your instructors know about your academic capabilities better than anyone. Secondly, they know about your personality, how you contribute to the class, how you’ve progressed over time, and much, much more.

A man writing on a piece of paper.

Perhaps the most important admissions officers hold a teacher recommendation letter in such high esteem is because these professionals can give an unbiased and informed perspective of applicants that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to find.

It’s not feasible to let students write their own recommendation letters, parents would be too biased, and other faculty would be too far removed to provide accurate or helpful information about applicants. As a result, teachers are chosen as the most valuable resource to provide information about a student.

How to choose the best teacher to write a recommendation letter

1. Choose a teacher who has seen you improve the most.

College admissions officers love nothing more than to see applicants who are committed to improving themselves and who have succeeded in this area. And there’s no better resource for this information to originate from than your teachers.

In a classroom, a professor helping a student.

When searching for the best teacher to write your letter, consider the strides you’ve made throughout your entire time in high school. During which year or semester did you make the most progress? Was there a particular course you were struggling in originally yet ended the course with a respectably high grade?

Asking yourself these questions can start to get the ball rolling on identifying the teacher who has seen you grow the most over the years. A testimony from a teacher who has seen you apply, challenge, and improve yourself will mean much more than a recommendation letter from an instructor who didn’t see you struggle at all. At AdmissionSight, we generally advise applicants to start by considering junior-year teachers.

2. Think about the instructors you’ve liked.

Throughout high school, you’ve come across teachers you’ve strongly disliked (to put it lightly), others you didn’t feel strongly one way or another about, and some instructors who left a positive, lasting impression on you.

When seeking out a teacher to write a letter of recommendation for your college application, it’s a good idea to think about the teachers you’ve had the best experiences with. Most of the time, the feelings go both ways.

They might not admit it as freely as students, but teachers also have their favorites. There’s a good chance that the teachers who you really enjoyed learning from felt the same about having you in class.

Asking for letters of recommendation from teachers with whom you have a better relationship than others will add an extra level of personality and authenticity that admissions officers will catch onto pretty quickly. Conversely, it’ll be obvious to colleges if a teacher really doesn’t have much of a connection with you at all.

3. Teachers you had more recently will have more to say.

At AdmissionSight, we generally advise applicants to start thinking about their junior-year instructors when looking for a teacher recommendation letter for a few key reasons. First and foremost, and perhaps most importantly, your 11th-grade teachers remember more about you and your academic performance than teachers you’ve had your sophomore or freshman year.

These earlier teachers have had hundreds of students since you were in their class as opposed to your junior-year instructors who have you top-of-the-mind. This increased familiarity will translate into a more personable and accurate letter of recommendation.

Again, admissions officers have enough practice to sense how familiar a teacher is to the applicant. And the closer they are, the more effective the letter. The second reason we recommend having junior-year teachers write your letter of recommendation is that they’ve seen you deal with higher-level, more challenging courses than your previous teachers.

Even if your performance was lower than your freshman or junior year, the fact that it was in a more difficult course more than makes up for it as admissions officers love to see students who aren’t afraid to push themselves.

4. Don’t automatically choose your best-performing class.

It’s a reflex for many high schoolers to automatically think about their highest grades when looking for a teacher letter of recommendation. The thought process goes something like this: “Colleges want to see the excellent academic performance so I’ll have an instructor in my highest-performing class write the letter of recommendation to highlight my abilities.”

A woman writing in her notebook.

That’s a totally understandable thought process, and it’s not completely off the mark. However, this strategy isn’t taking into account the holistic nature of letters of recommendation.

Just like college applications don’t just focus on your academic performance but a broad range of characteristics and elements, letters of recommendation too are intended to give admissions officers a complete perspective of an applicant.

Only choosing a teacher because you performed well in their class won’t encapsulate everything you have to offer a potential college. Instead, you need to choose a teacher who can provide the most holistic view of you in terms of high academic performance, strong work ethic, collaborative team members, and much more.

5. Follow the directions of your university.

Completing a college application requires a lot of time and energy. When standing at the bottom of this mountain of work, many high schoolers want to start the climb as quickly as possible. Although it’s crucial to get started early in the college admissions process, rushing the process can end up costing you in the long run if you don’t understand what your intended college needs.

For example, many schools require that applicants submit letters of recommendation written by teachers within their field of interest. If you were to dive headfirst into obtaining a recommendation letter only to realize you requested it from the wrong teacher, you would have a tough time making up for that mistake if – and that’s a big “if” – you caught it before submitting the letter.

This highlights the importance of following the directions of the university to which you’re applying. Following these directions ensure your application is accepted and even helps you identify the best teacher to write your letter.

6. Find a teacher who has the time to write your letter.

It’s important to keep in mind that when you start asking for a teacher recommendation letter, nearly all of your fellow classmates will begin the same process. Since the vast majority of colleges require at least one letter of recommendation – and many request two –  you’ll fight with other students for the limited attention and time of teachers.

Outside a cafe, a man is pointing at the laptop screen while a woman is writing notes.

It’s safe to assume that the most popular teachers at your school will receive the most requests from students. If you can beat your fellow classmates to the punch, you’ll have the upper hand. However, if you find yourself asking teachers who already have dozens of recommendation letters to write, you might want to reconsider which instructor you ask.

Just like your first-choice college might not turn out to be the most ideal option, the same is true when identifying the best teacher to write your letter of recommendation. All of the above criteria we shared for finding the most ideal teacher are wholly dependent on their availability.

If an instructor has too many letters to write, the quality of the final product is going to decrease. Instead of forcing it, move on to the second-best choice. It might not be ideal, but you’ll end up with a higher-quality teacher recommendation letter.

Want some additional tips for getting letters of recommendation that admissions officers will love? Click here!

What does a teacher recommendation letter look like?

Now that you have a clear idea of how to choose a teacher for your letter of recommendation along with some additional tips for ensuring the end result will boost your chances of getting into the university of your choice, you might be wondering what the final product could look like.

Here’s are two examples of highly effective and well-written teacher recommendation letters that would definitely catch the attention of admissions officers.

Example 1

“Dear Admissions Committee,

My name is Mr. Smith, and I have had the honor of teaching John in AP Literature and Composition at High School X, during which I noticed his impeccable character, discipline, and leadership. John is a self-motivated student who always went above and beyond in my class. It is a pleasure to recommend him.

John has an insatiable desire to learn, and he demonstrated this throughout his year in my class. His questions were insightful and eloquent, and he produced work that was far above that of the average student.

John’s writing and research skills are phenomenal. For his final project, he produced a truly remarkable essay analyzing cultural identity in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. John’s academic strengths are unparalleled, and I know he will be an asset to your institution.

John’s character is also impressive. He acts with generosity and compassion, and he is well respected by his peers and teachers alike. John is a natural leader, and he was such a joy to have in class.

As a learner and a leader, John is beyond exemplary. He has my strongest recommendation. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.


Mr. Smith

English Teacher

High School XI”

Example 2

“Dear Admissions Committee,

It is a great pleasure to recommend Stacy for admission to your engineering program. She is one of the most exceptional students I have encountered in my 15 years of teaching. I taught Stacy in my 11th grade honors physics class and advised her in Robotics Club. I am not surprised to find out she is now ranked at the top of an extraordinarily capable class of seniors.

She has a keen interest in and talent for physics, math, and scientific inquiry. Her advanced skills and passion for the subject make her an ideal fit for your rigorous engineering program.

Stacy is a perceptive, sharp, quick individual with a high aptitude for math and science.

She is driven to understand how things work, whether they be the old computer hard drives in the school library or the forces that hold our universe together. Her final project in class was especially impressive, an investigation of frequency-dependent sound absorption, an idea that she said was sparked by not wanting to bother her parents with her hours of guitar practice at home. S

He’s been a strong leader in the Robotics Club, eager to share her knowledge with others and learn new skills. I have the students in the club prepare lessons and take turns leading our after-school meetings. When it was Stacy’s turn, she showed up prepared with a fascinating lecture on lunar nautics and fun activities that got everyone moving and talking.

She was our only student teacher to be met with much deserved applause at the end of her lesson. Stacy’s personal strengths are as impressive as her intellectual accomplishments. She’s an active, outgoing presence in class with a great sense of humor.

Stacy’s the perfect person to get a group project rolling, but she also knows how to sit back and let others take the lead. Her cheerful nature and openness to feedback means she’s always learning and growing as a learner, an impressive strength that will continue to serve her well in college and beyond.

Stacy is just the kind of driven, engaging, and curious student that helped make our classroom a lively environment and safe place to take intellectual risks. Stacy has my highest recommendation for admission to your engineering program.

She has demonstrated excellence in all that she puts her mind to, whether it’s designing an experiment, collaborating with others, or teaching herself to play classical and electrical guitar. Stacy’s endless curiosity, combined with her willingness to take risks, leads me to believe there will be no limit to her growth and achievements in college and beyond.


Ms. Randall

Physics Teacher

Marie Curie High School”

What we liked about these

So, what makes this teacher recommendation letter strong. Well, first and foremost, you can immediately tell that the teachers genuinely liked the students. The letter didn’t feel overly formal or detached. Instead, you can feel the personal element. This connection gives admissions officers a better idea of what a student is like.

If the students in question were applying to college to pursue a degree in something related to literature in the first letter and physics in the second, these would work as perfect admission letters. The teachers don’t just broadly speak to the student’s good work in class. The letters go into detail about specific, relevant skills that the students possess, such as writing.

A hand holding a pen and writing on a piece of paper.

These explanations mean a lot to admissions officers who might not be able to glean the information from an application. Furthermore, hearing that an applicant has strong skills in their intended major is a great thing for colleges to hear, especially since most incoming students are still deciding what to study. It’s crucial to have the best teacher recommendation letter.

Get college admissions guidance from a seasoned expert.

Phew! The college admissions process is a roller coaster for high schoolers. With so many responsibilities and requirements along with tight deadlines, it’s easy to feel stressed. These feelings of anxiety and uncertainty aren’t helped by the fact that many high schoolers don’t know where to start or where to get a teacher recommendation letter.

Their parents, teachers, and fellow students can’t provide a lot more than words of encouragement and emotional support. That’s where a college entrance expert like AdmissionSight can help!

For over a decade, we’ve been helping students just like you navigate the complex college admissions process to accomplish their goals. With 75% of our students getting into Top 10 or Ivy League schools, we specialize in getting students into some of the most prominent schools in the country.

How do we do it? That’s a great question! We offer a wide range of services that help students improve various facets of their application. Whether you need professional advice when choosing high school courses or extracurriculars, assistance when choosing a summer program, guidance when preparing for a college interview, or anything else related to college admission, we’ve got you covered!

If you’d like to learn more about the services we offer and how they can help you get into the school of your choice, feel free to contact us to set up a free consultation. We look forward to hearing from you!


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