Letters of recommendation cause a lot of stress for students and families – but it does not have to be that way. It comes down to relationship-building, writing a great bragsheet, and managing the recommendation process well. So let’s look at each of those steps, in turn.
Part 1: Be True To Your School: Developing Good Relationships With Teachers, Counselors and Others
What if I told you that every day, you see people who could change the course of your life, who could determine the types of colleges you enter? How would you treat such people? Yes, I’m talking about teachers.
They see your work ethic, intelligence, creativity, integrity, and thoughtfulness day after day, firsthand – in short, everything colleges want to know about you that they might not be able to see from your academic numbers (grades and test scores). You may also need people to write these letters to apply for jobs, summer programs, internships, and other opportunities earlier in your high school years. So their letters ultimately could add heft to many applications, making you more competitive for a lot of things.
So, how can you get develop great relationships with your teachers? Here are some do’s and don’ts:
1) Be truly CURIOUS your subjects/activities, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or to raise your hand. People who love to teach, well, they love to teach people who want to learn – they like it when students truly want to know.
2) Be a good citizen. Be respectful. Yes, that means no texting or listening to your iPod in your class. Pay ATTENTION. Even better, try to contribute to the class in some way. Participate in class, and, if you can, be a resource to others. If your teacher would like for you to TA a class, by all means, so it!!!
3) Avoid grade-grubbing. Yes, that means you and your parents should not make a habit of begging, demanding, or haranguing teachers for make-up tests, extra credit opportunities unless truly needed. That means, you will avoid making up stories about relatives dying and so on.
4) Make use of any tutorial time your school sets aside for individual attention or your teacher’s office hours. Be more than just a name on a roll call sheet.
5) Always remember, the teacher is responsible for hundreds of students’ performances, not just yours. So be considerate of your teachers’ time!
The information above applies to your counselor, principal, the person who supervises your volunteer work, or the coach for your soccer team. All of these people may one day write letters for you!
Part 2: How To Write A Great Bragsheet – FAQs
Q: What Should I Write About, Big Picture?
A: The purpose of a bragsheet is to help your recommender write great things about you! Clearly mark each of your activities with detailed descriptions of each. That could mean an advanced class, special projects, or classroom responsibilities in addition to being a student.
Depending upon the relationship you have with your recommender, you may also want to mention to your teacher what you are hoping to emphasize to your ultimate reader. For example, you might be generally shy in class but when you see an opportunity to lead/etc., you take the reins in group projects – so you might ask your teacher to mention something to that effect to demonstrate your hidden leadership potential.
Q: What Is A Good Format For A Bragsheet?
A: Many schools use Naviance, or, may have their own templates that students must use in order to request a letter of recommendation from a teacher, counselor or principal. Be sure to check on your school’s policies. Some teachers have their own format. Use whichever your recommender would like. If there is no form in particular, start with a simple list of your activities, including your roles, responsibilities, what you learned from each and why you liked it. You essentially want a mini-story consisting of a few paragraphs for each activity.
Q: How Do I Know If It’s A Good Bragsheet?
A:The purpose of the bragsheet is to help your recommender understand what you’ve actually accomplished and experienced – whether you solved an interesting problem, found a new hobby, helped the homeless, or gained personal growth through bowling. Too frequently, student undervalue their own activities because they think they lack the “right” title or are engaged in a non-prestigious activity. Make sure you highlight the gems and put your best foot forward!
Part 3: Help Your Recommenders With A Great Bragsheet Plus Other Process Tips
1) Ask EARLY. Depending upon your high school, your teacher may cap the number of letters he/she writes! So get to the front of the line! You also should ask early so that your recommender can set aside enough time to write about you, and so that you can send a good bragsheet (see above).
2) Ask the right people. So, choose someone that LIKES you. It might not be teacher who gave you the “A.” Instead, think about the AP Chemistry teacher who saw you move from struggling with a C and watched your progress as you worked really hard to improve your grade into a B and gain a better understanding of the concepts, lab work, and everything else. He/she might be the perfect person to discuss your perseverance.
3) Clearly identify the deadline by which you need the letter, the purpose (college, summer program, job application, etc.), and any mechanical details, such as postal address, URL, etc. And since your recommender said “yes”, be sure to gently remind him/her of the deadline.
4) Ask politely, without applying any pressure, guilt trips, and so on. If someone agrees, remind the person politely. And when they actually write one, by golly, remember to send a THANK-YOU NOTE at minimum!
5) Last, but certainly not least, help your recommender remember you. Even if your recommender likes you, knows you, and thinks you are great, give him/her a great bragsheet. This is not the time to be modest! See FAQs above.
Hopefully, this article will help you have some peace of mind as you think about your daily school activities as well as your plans for college.