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Articles / Applying to College / Giving Teacher a Résumé Before He Writes My Recommendation?

Dec. 1, 2016

Giving Teacher a Résumé Before He Writes My Recommendation?

Question: So my English teacher is going to write my college recommendation, and my mother said that I should give him a résumé because I'm quiet in class (actually pretty shy in general) so he may not know me well enough to write about me. He already agreed to write the letter and he didn't ask me for a résumé , so I feel kind of funny just giving it to him. Should I do it anyway?

As a mother myself, it pains me to say this, but your mom is wrong (this time!). 😉 When a student needs a teacher recommendation, it is NOT a good idea to present the teacher with an unsolicited résumé (or at least not ONLY a résumé ) because then the teacher is likely to use that résumé as a crutch (e.g., “Alex has been in the Spanish club for 4 years and is co-editor of the literary magazine"). College officials will see this information elsewhere in the application, and they are asking for a teacher reference in order to get a snapshot of their applicant in the classroom.


When a quiet student presents a prospective recommender with a résumé , it boosts the odds that the teacher will rely on that résumé to fill the page. So instead, every student–and especially the shy ones–should begin with a cover letter requesting the reference. In the letter, the student should say something like, “I'm sure you get many of these requests, so I hope you find it helpful for me to list some of the highlights of my time in your class." The student should then provide roughly 5 to 8 bullet items that can be a mix of academic and not-academic achievements and recollections such as, “I pulled my grade from a 78 to a 92 by attending extra-help sessions weekly" or “You read my paper on Maya Angelou to the entire class."

No actual “achievements" or not enough? Then toss in some pleasant memories such as, “I especially loved the week we spent discussing Robert Frost because it reminded me of visiting my grandparents in New England" or “Although I know you're a Yankees fan (ugh!), I still enjoyed your sports anecdotes."

In your case, since you've already enlisted your English teacher to write on your behalf, you can skip the cover letter and tell him that, if he hasn't finished the reference yet, you'd like to provide him with some additional information. Then hand him the bulleted list ASAP … like today. (If you're super shy, you can even do this via email.) Ideally, you would have presented the list at the start of the recommendation-request process. But, since you didn't, it may not be too late. At this busy time of year, teachers often have stacks of references to write and yours may still be somewhere near the bottom of the pile.

I promise that teachers appreciate these little memory-joggers, and your list will help to steer the recommendation toward the classroom and away from the extracurricular activities. It's okay to provide a résumé , too (and some teachers will require one), but these bullet items will go a long way toward giving colleges the information they're seeking and can be a godsend for quiet students who prefer to keep their “conversations" with teachers on paper.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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