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Articles / Applying to College / My Teacher Wants to "UNrecommend" Me!

Feb. 26, 2010

My Teacher Wants to "UNrecommend" Me!

Question: I am a high school junior and generally a very nice, enthusiastic, and charming person, but in my freshman year one teacher just drove me nuts. Now, he is insinuating that he will write a "letter of unrecommendation" to all my colleges! What's worse is that this teacher is notorious for spreading untruthful rumors, and I'm afraid that his letters will contain libel and falsehood. Will the colleges contact me,personally, to verify everything in my teacher's disparaging letter?

Teachers don't automatically write recommendations; they need to be asked by you to do so. In fact, the "Common Application," (which you may end up using for many of your target schools) provides a specific electronic "invitation" that goes to only the two teachers you specify. Colleges that don't participate in the Common Application often have their own forms (either electronic or paper) that you will present only to your selected recommenders. Thus, this teacher who is pestering you will not receive a form nor should he have access to your college list.


More important, colleges do not want letters of reference from freshman teachers. Some explicitly state that your recommendations must come from a junior- or senior-year teacher. (A few schools even stipulate the subjects they must have taught you--typically English + math or science.) Even when a college doesn't insist on a junior or senior teacher, it's a well known rule of thumb that this is the wisest choice. So, if Mr. Rumormonger won't teach you again in 11th or 12th grade, you can politely tell him that his recommendation won't fit the colleges' instructions.

I have a hunch that this teacher may be teasing you and, when the time comes, he won't make good on his "threat." Does he have a reputation for sending out unwanted college letters? If so, can you confirm that it's true and not merely urban legend? If, next year, it seems that he is still geared up to write on your behalf, then you should ask your guidance counselor to intercede.

Colleges will not contact you to verify references. However, you can indicate on your application forms whether or not you waive your right to see your recommendations. I strongly urge you to sign this waiver so that colleges will know that your teachers felt free to speak their minds. Presumably, the teachers you actually select will be those who admire you, so you won't have to fear the content of their letters.

Again, I suspect that you are worrying about nothing, but write me again next fall if this guy still seems to be itching to "unrecommend" you.

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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