Teacher Recommendation Letters

Why teacher recommendation letters are extremely important and how to ask for them. Advice for international students.

Succesful teacher recommendation letters talk about you and your personality on multiple levels. They give the admission committee a chance to see you through someone else’s eyes. Your teacher can provide valuable information on your academic performance and give insights on what type of person you are and what qualities you will bring to the campus.



Great teacher recommendation letters talk about you as a:

  • student who shows enthusiasm about learning that can inspire others, for example by participating in extra assignments, olympiads, clubs, or even helping as a teacher assistant.
  • friend, happy to share your knowledge and help other students in the classroom.
  • person. How do you approach challenges? Do you ask questions and seek help? Are you persistent? What do you bring to classroom? Maybe it is a sense of humor, maybe kindness and maturity? A great reference letter usually has an anecdote or talks about a specific classroom situation that illustrates a unique part of your personality.

If during the school year you went through some personal life challenges (parents’ divorce, health issues) that affected your grades, your teacher or counselor can explain those circumstances in the letter.

Who should you ask for teacher recommendation letters?

Most colleges require two teachers recommendation letters and one from a college counselor. International students often don’t have a college counselor. In this case, they can ask a mentor, coach, or even a very close friend.

Ana from Harvard University asked her friend to write a reference because the friend wrote well, was responsible, and knew her particular personal challenges. She submitted her friend’s letter along with two teacher recommendation letters.

Ideally, the teacher writing your recommendation letter has a long and meaningful personal connection with you and appreciates your work ethic and personality!


Avoid choosing teachers just because they graduated from Ivy League universities. Remember that their credentials do not transfer to you.

Teacher recommendation letters are part of the story that you are telling through the entire application. If you are a scientist, for example, and applying for an engineering school, make sure that at least one recommendation letter comes from a science or math teacher.

How to approach your teacher

Teachers in American schools write hundreds of recommendations and know how to write them. Teachers from another countries may appreciate some guidance. You can bring them our Guide to Writing Teacher Reference Letters.

Try to approach your teacher in person. Thank them for all the help they have given you and say that you would be honored if thet would be willing to write you a recommendation letter. Tell them what schools you are applying to and mention a few points on why you are specifically asking them for the letter. For example:

Mr. Smith, I really enjoyed your class and felt honored when you selected me to join the computer science club. Would you be willing to write a recommendation letter on my behalf for my college applications?

Next, you should follow up with email listening deadlines and further instructions.

Make sure that you give your teacher enough time – at least one month – to write your recommendation letter.

Example of a Recommendation Letter Request:
Dr./Mrs./Mr. (teachers name)  

Thank you for sharing your knowledge and helping me succeed in your class, and thank you for participating in my college search by writing a recommendation letter on my behalf.

Your class is one of the reasons that I’m interested in studying (subject). I hope your letter can help my future college see that I’m a good fit for their program. The final day for submitting the recommendation letter is (final date).

You can submit the recommendation through this link (insert link).

Thank you very much!





Interested in learning about other parts of common application? Check our blog on how to master common application.

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