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Articles / Applying to College / How Do I Send Teacher Recommendations?

June 20, 2007

How Do I Send Teacher Recommendations?

Question: What should I do with the teacher recommendations? Do I just give the forms to my teachers, and are they supposed to send them? Or do they give the form back to me, and am I supposed to send them along with my whole application? Also, what if the colleges receive the recommendations before I even send my application? Will they just ignore the recommendations? I really don't know how this works.

This part of the application process can be confusing (along with the rest of it, of course :-) )


Some high schools have a specific recommendation protocol in place. For instance, the counseling staff may insist that all recommendation letters must be returned to the guidance office and sent to colleges along with your transcript and secondary school report.

However, if your school doesn't have any official rules (and most schools don't), then your best bet is to give your recommending teachers one envelope for each college that must receive a copy of the recommendation. Here's what else to do:

-Stamp each envelope and address it to the appropriate admission office-On the outside front of the envelope, in the lower left-hand corner, write: YOUR NAME, YOUR SCHOOL NAME, the contents of the envelope (e.g., "Letter of reference from Mr. J.J. Johnstone, biology teacher")
-If appropriate, also write "Early Decision," "Early Action," "Regular Decision," etc. (If the college has rolling admission or only one decision plan, no need to write anything)

Your teacher will be responsible for copying his or her letters and sticking them in the corresponding envelopes. (And has a teacher ever screwed up and put the wrong letter in an envelope? You bet! Is it a dealbreaker? No way!)

You can also help your teachers by writing the recommendation deadline under the flap of the envelope as a reminder, especially if you have given your teachers multiple envelopes for colleges with different deadlines.

While some teachers do give copies of their letters to students, it is advisable to sign the waiver on the application that allows teachers to write confidentially. Colleges do NOT want to see that letters of reference have arrived with YOUR materials. They should be submitted separately, either directly by the teachers or from your guidance office.

We also suggest that you present the envelopes and reference material to your teacher(s) along with a cover note which offers thanks in advance for this extra effort and provides the teacher with a list of highlights of the time you spent in his or her class. It's okay to brag a bit here, and--trust me--teachers will be grateful. You may remember for the rest of your life that your history teacher asked you to read your paper on the Industrial Revolution to the entire class, but he may have forgotten already.

Colleges are accustomed to receiving all sorts of material before a student has officially applied. Most schools will keep all this stuff in an alphabetized "general file." Then, when your official application shows up, office staff will check through the general file and move all materials therein into your own personal application folder. So don't worry if the teachers beat you to the mailbox. Colleges are fully prepared to deal with this.

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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