Recommendation Letters (Teacher or Counselor)

If you’ve read my previous posts, you now understand that all of the information a student submits to the university with their application paints a portrait of the student to the admissions counselor.  Teacher and/or counselor recommendation letters are just another piece of the overall picture.

Like the resume, the recommendation letter is not required for most major Texas universities, but is strongly recommended.  Special programs like honors colleges and scholarship applications require them.

Rule of Thumb:  Always be sure to check the university admissions website for direction, if they advise NOT to send additional information, follow their directions.

An admissions counselor at Texas Tech advised that if a student is a borderline accept, this is just another piece of information, from a personal perspective, that will be reviewed before an accept or decline decision is ultimately made.  There is a review board for students who aren’t a clear and perfect fit for each university.  This is where the supplemental documentation is generally reviewed in depth.


Select a teacher who knows your student well.  I would not recommend a teacher who has issues with your student or where the student is struggling to master the coursework.  Your student should have passed the coursework presented by this teacher.  Generally your student will have a preference of which teacher they feel knows them the best.  The teacher chosen should be able to include specifics about the student’s personal characteristics, work ethic or accomplishments as opposed to someone who will just include glittering generalities.

The ultimate teacher will have had your student in more than one class, or activity.  This isn’t always possible though, so don’t fret if your student doesn’t have this type of teacher.   The teacher may also be a fine arts director, club sponsor, or  athletics coach, in addition to their teaching responsibilities.  These are prime candidates as they know your student on a deeper level and see them outside of a limited classroom setting.

The teacher we used for my son’s application was his Pre-A/P and A/P Physics teacher.  We also used his theater director for certain scholarship applications.  Our son liked and respected these teachers and made excellent grades in their classes.  Our daughter’s teacher recommendation came from her A/P Psychology teacher, who was also her soccer coach for two years.  This teacher’s class influenced our daughter’s decision to pursue a career in Psychology.

Most likely your student will have no choice in the Counselor recommendation, this is generally handled by the counselor assigned to your student.  Don’t discount the value of their letters.  Both of our student’s counselors crafted very strong letters.

Hint:  Have your student get to know their counselor – this is a start early activity.  If they don’t know them today, make sure they get to know them over the next few months.  The counselor’s office, and especially the senior counselor secretary (in our experience), will be their ally in the application process.

When asking for recommendation letters, be sure to plan ahead, you can alert the designated teacher several months in advance (now) so that they are thinking about your student and what they will write.  At the bare minimum, make the request at least 15 working days (3 weeks) prior to the deadline.  Be polite, and be sure to follow up with a written thank you note.  These are professionals with busy lives and you are asking for something beyond their regular duties.  You don’t want them to rush through the creation of your recommendation letter.  Be nice!

It is not a common practice, but some people include a small token of thanks, a $5-10 gift card to Starbucks or a local eatery, to show appreciation to the most underpaid and underappreciated professionals in the world.  While not required, it is a nice way to help out the teacher/counselor.


I asked a teacher for her perspective on this post – so the following is her advice:

“I like to make sure I have plenty of time to write the recommendation.  I prefer two to three weeks notice.

I like to have the student bring/email me a resume.  This is where I like to try to find  information that I may not have realized about the student during class time.  There is a  form in the counselor’s office that has great questions for both the student and the parents to answer and I get more out of that than the actual regular resume. (Personal Data SheetNote that Section 1. Extracurricular Activities, Part A. List your extracurricular activities and how long you participate is essentially your resume)

I like to be able to create one good paragraph that is unique to that student and what makes them “special” over anybody else.

I like them to check in with me about three to five days before the recommendation is due just to be certain I haven’t misplaced anything.  Or, in the event that it is an online
recommendation, that something hasn’t gone wrong with logging in to that particular

They need to bring an envelope ADDRESSED and STAMPED to where it is going when I complete it.

Try to bring everything to the teacher at one time rather than in pieces.  That’s how stuff gets lost.  I usually do not begin writing the letter until I have everything (deadline, resume, forms, and envelopes).”


About wagnerjb2011

Retired systems analyst and retired volunteer. For 12 years I volunteered at the International School of Hamburg (Germany) and in various schools in Texas. My first child, a son, graduated high school in 2009. I had an excellent mentor going into his senior year, who gave me wonderful advice about navigating the college application process. I again found this information quite handy as our second child, a daughter, found herself filing applications in 2011. Both made it into the schools of their choosing without much trepidation. I am a firm believer in paying things forward. So there you have it!
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