Last week, I had the great opportunity to speak at the Penn Club in NYC along with Steve Hamilton of the Penn Alumni Admissions Resource Center (formerly the Alumni Council on Admissions). This talk was focused on highly selective college admissions and the questions from the audience were excellent! One question that came up repeatedly was how to determine which teachers to ask for recommendation letters.
Admissions officers use teacher recommendation letters to get a better understanding of the role you play in your high school classrooms. They want to see that you are a dynamic and intelligent participant, you care about your work, you help other students and you share thoughtfully. Admissions officers also hope to see that you have a varied range of academic talents. This means that it is ideal to have one recommendation from a humanities teacher (English, history or foreign language) and a second from a math or science teacher. (Some programs may ask for letters from specific teachers – always make sure you know the requirements!)
Be sure to choose teachers who know you very well and can reflect on who you are as a person and as a student. The ideal teachers will be from your junior year – if you are currently a junior, now is the time to start thinking about who to ask. You can even let the teachers you have identified know that you plan to ask them for a letter next fall – that way, they can start thinking about what they want to write!