Writing Letters of Recommendation: Some Advice for Seniors

As a math teacher and a non-senior teacher, I only get a few requests for letters of recommendation per year.  When I taught Honors Pre Calculus, the volume was a little higher, but still nothing like the senior English teachers I know.  Either way, the experience usually goes something like this…

Student walks into my classroom.  “Mrs. Verti, do you mind writing me a letter of recommendation?”

Me.  “Of course not.”   There’s usually a long pause in which the student waits, so I start to ask a series of questions.

  • Where are you applying?
  • When do you need it by?
  • How do I get the letter to you? (Usually, they are not my student anymore so I don’t see them daily.)
  • Is it through commonapp?
  • I need you to fill out this form first, and hand them a form.  This helps me write a better letter with information about you that I don’t know.  Sometimes a student mentions that they have a resume for me and I will tell them to attach it to the form.

I created the form because it is really difficult to write a letter of recommendation without knowing anything about the student other than they completed homework assignments, participated in class, got an A- in my class, and played a sport.  When I write a letter with that information, it is going to look like every other letter that is sent out.

Over the years, the questions on my form have evolved.  I realized that as much as it helps to know what my students did in high school, what I really want to know what they want to get out of college and what they plan to do in the future.  So here are my questions now…  I have them submit these on a google form.

  1. What’s your email address? (Too often students ask me that are no longer my students and I don’t have an easy way to get a hold of them.)
  2. Last name, First name (I ask this because I want to spell their name the way they prefer.)
  3. Will you require an electronic submission of this letter? If so, where? (So many times they ask and don’t give me this information.)
  4. What schools are you applying to? (I’d like to know this!!!)
  5. What year’s were you in my class? (Please help a teacher out.  I’ve been teaching for 16 years and they are all blending together now.)
  6. What activities were you involved in at Bonita? (I like to know what they were involved in at Bonita because I know there are things they did that I was not aware of.)
  7. What activities have you been involved with outside of Bonita? (This one always surprises me.  Our students are involved in so many community activities, church groups, volunteer, educational, jobs, sports, etc.)
  8. Do you work? where? how long? (I think this is an important question because it shows that students can juggle responsibilities.)
  9. What do you want to study in college? Why? (I want to be able to talk about your major!!!)
  10. What is something that is going on in the world that you are passionate about? Explain.  (This question sets students apart.  The passionate ones have a fire and a drive and will finish the degree and change the world.  And if they aren’t passionate about something, then I try to have a conversation with them to find their passion.   Because if they can identify that, then it will give them a direction.  Also, I can write one heck of a letter if I can include this.)
  11. What problem in the world would you solve in your chosen field of study? Explain. (This goes with the question above. )
  12. What do you want to be “when you grow up”? Why?  (If they have an answer, I like to include this in the letter.)
  13. What accomplishment are you most proud of? Why? (Many times this is non-academic.)
  14. Have you ever had a difficult situation you’ve had to overcome? What did you do to get over it? (Listen, life is going to be difficult.  College is going to be difficult.  Many students know already how to get through the difficult things and thrive and so they show that they will do the same at university.)
  15. What do you want to get out of college?  (Do you like the size of the school? Big? Small? Small classes? Diversity? Big city? Small city? Study abroad? Sports program? etc.)
  16. What did you learn from your experiences in extracurricular activities or high school?  (What are the life lessons these taught you?)


To all the seniors in high school about to approach a teacher with a letter of recommendation request:

We want to help you.  Please come prepared.  Feel free to bring your resume as well as answer the questions above.  Know when you need the letter by and how you need to submit it.

If the teacher is not currently your teacher, provide the teacher with a way to contact you when they are finished.

Also, when you get accepted and decide on where to go, go back and let the teachers know.  Not just those who wrote you letters, but also your freshman math teacher.  She really wants to give you a “high five”.


Your freshman math teacher

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