Guidelines for Deciding
which Teachers to Ask
Waiving Rights to Review
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
Recommendations influence admissions decisions. Colleges want to know you as a person and through these
letters they learn about your personality, attitude, character, level of maturity and special interests. In trying to
narrow down whom you should ask for a recommendation, the key is to select people with whom you have had
an ongoing relationship and who are able to offer positive comments that will distinguish you from other
applicants. This is not necessarily the teacher that gives you the highest grade.
An official school recommendation is written on your behalf by the college office. You should also submit
other recommendations, and it is your responsibility to request these references. We strongly recommend
two recommendations from teachers who taught you during Tut 3 or Tut 4 and appropriate
supplementary references. These may be selected from the following sources: teachers, club advisors,
employers, friends, people you have worked with or who have supervised you in volunteer service, etc.
The college office will take responsibility for copying and sending references you want included with your
other credentials, if original copies of those references are on file in the college office. Find out from those you
ask to write whether they will mail the recommendation under separate cover or if they are willing to have the
letter placed in your file in the college office. If the letter will be mailed directly to the college, it is your
responsibility to provide the writer with a stamped, addressed envelope for each college to which you are
Many students have difficulty deciding which teachers they should ask for recommendations and become
confused by the teacher evaluation forms provided by the colleges. Most of these forms ask for general
information that teachers usually include in the body of the letters they write. Don’t burden your teachers by
insisting that they fill out these forms completely. Secure a commitment early from the teachers you wish to
have support your candidacy and suggest that the letter be written on UNIS stationery. IT IS YOUR
RESPONSIBILITY TO REMIND TEACHERS OF DEADLINES. The college advisors work closely with
your teachers in providing guidance about their role in writing letters of recommendation. Check with the
college office if you have any questions and encourage your teachers to do so as well.
REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE ASKING TEACHERS TO WRITE ABOUT YOU AS A STUDENT IN
THEIR CLASS; THEY ARE NOT WRITING TO A SPECIFIC COLLEGE.
The teachers you select should write a general reference that will be sent to each college to which you are
applying. If the college provides a teacher evaluation form, give it to the teacher to use as a supplement to the
general reference. Be sure you have written your name, address, and other information requested at the top of
the form before giving it to your teacher.
As mentioned above, give your teachers the option of mailing their recommendations themselves or submitting
them to the college office in a timely fashion.
GUIDELINES FOR DECIDING WHICH TEACHERS TO ASK FOR RECOMMENDATIONS
• Before deciding which teachers to ask, examine yourself as a student to get a better understanding of
your strengths and weaknesses and the type of learning environment that brings out your best qualities.
• Ask teachers who know you well, and if, as you are reading this, you are uncertain about which teachers to
ask, begin developing a closer relationship with a few of your teachers NOW!
• Choose teachers who have taught you in Tut 3 or Tut 4. Colleges want a recent impression.
• Ask teachers of subjects which may relate to your future area of study. For example, students planning
on studying Engineering should ask a math teacher or physical science teacher for a reference; a student
interested in Communications would be wise in getting a reference from a teacher of English.
• Check if any of the colleges to which you will be applying requires a recommendation from a teacher
of a specific subject. In this case, count the teacher of this subject as one of your teacher references. Please
don’t “pick and choose” teachers for each college. Your teachers are very busy and a commitment to write
on your behalf is great in terms of time and effort. Discuss your teacher choices with a college advisor.
• Choose teachers from different subject areas.
• If English is not your first language, and if you have been in ESL at any time during your years at
UNIS, ask a teacher of English for a recommendation. The amount of reading and writing at college is
substantial and admissions officers are interested in what your teachers have to say about the quality of your
writing and your reading proficiency.
• Choose teachers who can comment upon your growth and willingness to work to improve. Colleges are
more interested in learning how a student strives to improve than about the student who earns an “easy” 7.
• Choose teachers who can offer different impressions of your academic performance. For example, one
teacher may be able to comment upon how you work on independent projects; others could cite your
contributions to class discussions or willingness to help classmates who are having difficulty with the
• Approach the teachers you have identified early, at least two months in advance of the college deadline.
In college admission, the old maxim that the “early bird catches the worm” applies. Many Tut 4 teachers are
flooded with requests for recommendations. Students who procrastinate in asking for references may find
themselves in a predicament as teachers may refuse or be unable to meet the college application deadlines.
As writing recommendations is time consuming, many teachers limit the number of letters they will write.
• Be courteous with your teachers and make an appointment to discuss your college choices with the
teachers you ask. It will not serve you well to approach a teacher on the run in between classes.
Although some colleges do not require teacher recommendations, if these letters have been written on your
behalf and are included with your other credentials, the letters will be read by admissions officers. Protect
yourself by thinking that two teachers’ letters are required for your college file.
Abide by the following guidelines in selecting other supportive recommendations:
• Spend time considering whom to ask. List the adults outside your family who have spent time with you
and know you best. Among those people you may consider are a neighbor for whom you baby-sit or another
employer, a dance or music instructor, coach, youth group leader, or your doctor.
• Narrow your choices and only consider asking people who can offer a unique perspective about you. As a
practical consideration, pick people who can write well.
• Ask the right way. Make an appointment with the person you select to discuss your reason for asking and
to give the person an idea about what you expect of the recommendation.
• Make your request specific. Indicate the colleges to which you are applying and the deadlines.
• Do not think you will impress admissions officials by obtaining recommendations from prominent
citizens or celebrities. College officers know the difference between a letter that has been written for status
reasons as opposed to a letter that is a genuine statement about a student’s character. Most admissions
officers resent artificial support and are not impressed by “name dropping.” The key is to ask someone who
knows you well in a personal context.
Questions frequently arise about the value of a reference from an alumnus or an alumna of a college. Again, the
rule to follow is if the person is someone who knows you well and has maintained contact with the college, then
the letter may be appropriate. College admissions personnel are very savvy about those letters from alumni
which are genuinely supportive of the applicant and reflect knowing the applicant well, as opposed to those
which have been written as a favor to the applicant’s father’s business partner, etc.
As a general rule, remember that when it comes to deciding upon supportive documentation for your college
applications, you should not confuse quantity with quality. A few well-chosen references from individuals
with whom you have a close relationship will serve you better than an array of vague and impersonal letters.
Finally, don’t forget to send thank you notes to each person who has written on your behalf.
Some colleges ask students to request a friend to write on their behalf. This reference is able to provide the
college with the perspective as to how a student will adjust to campus life, relate to peers and become involved
in the community. Should one of your colleges request this recommendation, let the friend you selected know
the basis for your choice and provide ample time for the letter to be written and sent to the college.
There are even colleges which provide a form for a parent’s letter of recommendation. Don’t fret about this—
despite the occasional difficulty you may have in communicating with your parents, to the outside world they
would be thrilled to present the most positive picture of you. A final note of caution regarding references: if a
college states that it is optional to submit a specific reference, consider the suggestion as an admissions
requirement of that college. We suggest, however that you abide by the rule of five; ie, no more than five
references total should be submitted: the counselor letter (school report), two academic teachers, and
two additional, if appropriate.
WAIVING RIGHTS TO REVIEW
On many college applications, the student is offered the option whether or not to waive rights to read
recommendations that have been submitted as well as other information in the student’s file. The decision to
waive your rights is a personal one. We recommend that you waive your rights since colleges may trust the
honesty of the recommendation more if a student does not have access to the letter. In fact, students who
opt to keep their rights to review are only given access to the letters at the college in which they enroll.
Students who wisely select those who will write about them should not be insecure about the content of
recommendations. Usually, if a person feels unqualified to write on a student’s behalf, or questions the merit of
the letter he or she could write, that individual will more than likely decline the request to provide a reference.
All school recommendations (teacher and counselor) are maintained in the College Office and included in the
students’ applications. These items are confidential and therefore not shared with students or parents. At times,
teachers have been willing to show students their recommendations after their applications have been sent, but
this happens outside the College Office and is strictly between the student and teacher.