Private School Teacher Recommendations

Everything you need to know

asking for a recommendation from teachers
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Teacher recommendations are an important part of the boarding school admissions process. These assessments schools to hear from your teachers, the people who know you best in the classroom environment, in order to get a better idea of what you’re like as a student. The idea of asking a teacher to complete a recommendation may be intimidating to some, but with a little preparation, this part of the process should be a breeze.

Here are some common questions, along with the information you need to prepare your recommendations: 

How many teacher recommendations do I need?

Most private schools will require three recommendations as part of the admission process, even if you complete one of the standard applications. Typically, one recommendation will be directed to your school's principal, head of school, or counselor. The other two recommendations are to be completed by your English and math teachers. Some schools will require additional recommendations, like science or a personal recommendation. If you're applying to a specialty school, like an art school or a sports-focused school, you may also be asked to have an art teacher or coach complete a recommendation. The admission office will have all of the details you need to ensure that you complete all the requirements. 

What is a personal recommendation?

A great characteristic of private school, especially boarding school, is that your experience goes beyond the classroom.

From arts and athletics to living on dorm and being involved in the community, who you are as a person is just as important as who you are as a student. Teacher recommendations showcase your academic strengths and areas in need of improvement, as well as your personal learning style, while personal recommendations cover life beyond the classroom and share more information about you as an individual, a friend and a citizen.

Remember that not every school requires these, so don't be concerned if it's not an option when you apply. 

Should my teachers complete my personal recommendations, too?

Personal recommendations should be completed by an adult who knows you well. You can ask another teacher (not the same teachers completing the academic recommendations), a coach, an advisor, or even a friend’s parent. The goal of these recommendations is to have someone who knows you on a personal level speak on your behalf.

Perhaps you’re looking to play in a private school athletics program, have a strong passion for art, or are regularly involved in community service activities. Personal recommendations can tell the admission committee more about these endeavors. In these cases, it's a good idea to pick either a coach, art teacher, or volunteer supervisor to complete the personal recommendation.

Personal recommendations can also be used to share information about areas in which you need personal growth, which isn’t a bad thing. We all have areas of our lives to improve, whether it’s your ability to get places on time, a need to not overcommit yourself to activities or the ability to keep your room clean that you need to work on, private school is the perfect environment in which to grow and gain a greater sense of maturity and responsibility.

How do I ask my teacher or coach to complete a recommendation?

Some students can get nervous when it comes to asking for a recommendation, but if you take the time to explain to your teachers why you’re applying to private school, your teachers will most likely be supportive of your new educational endeavor. The key is to ask nicely, make it easy for your teacher to complete the application (guide them through the process) and give your teachers plenty of advance notice and a set deadline to submit.

If the school has a paper form to complete, be sure to print it out for your teacher and provide them with an addressed and stamped envelope to make it easier for them to return it to school. If the application is to be completed online, send your teachers an email with a direct link to access the recommendation form and, again, remind them of a deadline.

It’s always nice to follow up with a thank-you note once they have completed the application. 

What if my teacher doesn’t know me well or doesn't like me? Can I ask my teacher from last year instead?

The school to which you’re applying needs a recommendation from your current teacher, regardless of how well you think he or she knows you, or if you think they like you. The goal is for them to understand your mastery of the materials being taught this year, not what you learned last year or five years ago. If you have concerns, keep in mind that some schools will give you the option to submit personal recommendations, and you can ask another teacher to complete one of those. If you are still concerned, talk to the admission office at the school you're applying to in order to see what they recommend. Sometimes, they will let you submit two recommendations: one from this year's teacher and one from last year's teacher. 

What if my teacher is late submitting the recommendation?

This one is easy to answer: Don’t let this happen. As the applicant, it’s your responsibility to give your teacher plenty of notice, a friendly reminder of deadlines and to check in to see how it's going and if they have completed it. Don’t pester them constantly, but definitely don’t wait until the day before the recommendation is due. When you ask your teacher to complete the recommendation, make sure they clearly know the deadline, and ask them to let you know when it’s done. If you haven’t heard from them and the deadline is approaching, about two weeks before it’s due, do another check in.

Most schools today also have online portals where you can track the progress of your application, and you can see when your teachers and/or coaches have submitted their recommendations. 

If your teacher recommendations are late, make sure you immediately contact the school to see if there's still time to submit. Some private schools are strict with deadlines and will not accept application materials after the deadline, while others will be more lenient, especially when it comes to teacher recommendations. 

Can I read my recommendations?

One reason why you have to work closely with your teachers to ensure they submit the recommendations on time is that teacher recommendations and personal recommendations are all typically confidential. That means, the teachers need to submit them themselves, and not give them to you to return. Some school even require recommendations to come from the teachers in a sealed and signed envelope to make sure the confidentiality of it is preserved.

The goal is for the teacher to give a full and honest review of you as a student, including your strengths and areas of improvements. Schools want a true picture of your abilities, and your teachers' honesty will help the admission team decide if you are a good fit for their academic program, and in turn, if their academic program will meet your needs as a student. If teachers think you're going to read the recommendations, they might withhold important information that could help the admission committee better understand you as a scholar and a member of your community.

And keep in mind that the areas in which you need to improve are things that the admission team expects to learn about you. No one has mastered every aspect of every subject, and there’s always room to improve.

Should I submit more recommendations than requested?

No. Plain and simple, no. Many applicants mistakenly think that stacking their applications with dozens of really strong personal recommendations and extra subject recommendations from past teachers is the  best way to go. However, your admission officers don’t want to wade through dozens of pages of recommendations, especially not ones from teachers in elementary school when you're applying to high school (believe it or not, that happens!). Stick with the required recommendations from your current teachers, and if requested, choose the one or two individuals who best know you for your personal recommendations, and stop there.  

Have other questions about recommendations? Tweet me @stacyjago or @privateschoolpg with your questions and I'll get back to you!

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Jagodowski, Stacy. "Private School Teacher Recommendations." ThoughtCo, Nov. 22, 2016, thoughtco.com/private-school-teacher-recommendations-4115067. Jagodowski, Stacy. (2016, November 22). Private School Teacher Recommendations. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/private-school-teacher-recommendations-4115067 Jagodowski, Stacy. "Private School Teacher Recommendations." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/private-school-teacher-recommendations-4115067 (accessed November 22, 2017).