April 2020 Teacher Recommendations


With the end of the school year coming up in about two months, many students will be busy with AP exam and/or final exam preparations. However, during this season I would like to remind Juniors to actively seek out and develop good relationships with their school teachers.


 Although teacher recommendations are not due until after the application portal opens up in August of the student’s senior year, teacher-to-student relationships should be built throughout a student’s high school career. Relationships take time -- on both accounts. I hope that most Juniors have at least two teachers in mind -- teachers whom the students have respected as mentors over the year or two. Even if the teacher does not actually teach one of your courses the year after, continue to visit, ask questions, have a teacher become an Advisor for your school club, etc.


This article will give some more context on how students can approach better relationships with their advisors, as they consider the type of questions teachers are asked to evaluate students and advise a series of practical responses students can take to help approach their teachers. In preparation for college applications, the general recommendation is to have two high school teacher recommendations on hand. While the UC system asks for recommendations for some students, after the applications are submitted, most private schools require about 2 recommendations from teachers as a part of their submission process. The number of required recommendations vary per school, but even having three recommendations on hand can be helpful for when there is an “optional recommendation” as well. However, the “optional recommendation” is only helpful if the information provides new information (and specific information) about the student; application readers don’t want to spend extra time reading redundant information. But for the “optional” section, aside from a high school teacher, if the student has any other close mentors from an internship, a summer program, or any extracurricular activity, please consider them as well.


As for the main (teacher) recommendations, teachers broadly answer a few category of questions: Subject area (of course taught), Ratings (of the student’s qualities - will describe in more detail below), more Context (How long have you known the student and in what context? And the first words that come to mind about the student), and of course, the recommendation letters.


As for the Ratings section, these are the factors teachers are asked to rate the students based on the scale of (1) being the lowest and (7) being the highest, and also a “no basis” option: (1) below average, (2) average, (3) good, (4) very good, (5) excellent (top 10%), (6) outstanding (top 5%), (7) one of the top few encountered (top 1%).


Especially for students aiming for the top 20 universities, the students should at the least receive a rating of (5) or higher; without another way for colleges to gain perspective of “what kind of student” the student is from the teacher’s perspective, these ratings and recommendations are valuable testimonies to the student’s character. It is surprising that many students don’t think too much about this part of their applications, again, especially when schools like Stanford are at around 5% acceptance, they have high expectations of the teacher to student ratings to be within that percentile.


So how does a student stand out? And how do students stand out in a good way? There are a handful of stories that admission officers share about how certain teacher recommendations flat out say “don’t pick this student” or put down “average or below average” ratings. Certainly students don’t pick teachers whom they believe will put down these sort of remarks about the students, but it happens. The question of how does a student stand out in a good way, is no less complicated than the question of how does any person stand out in a good way. Factors like: genuine academic passion and awareness of current events, the desire for knowledge to improve social conditions or to bring about technological progress, ideologies and evidence of collaboration and initiating contributions/participation in class discussions, are some ways students stand out to teachers.


Hopefully these suggestions can guide students to build the appropriate relationships with their teachers.


  1. Greet your teachers and participate in class -- acknowledging the teacher’s presence with enthusiasm and energy is why teachers do what they do; there are so many students that get excellent grades in their courses, but aren’t really a part of class. Even if a student demonstrates intellect by doing well in class, the teacher's primary purpose is to foster a community and dialogue around the subject. If a student knows their things, they should contribute, and of course be humble in the way they receive insights from other colleagues. The worst thing a high scoring student can do is be perceived as arrogant or prideful by the teacher! Be kind and respectful in discussions, and tame your attitude even when things don’t always go your way.


  1. Discipline and love for learning -- every student loves something; teachers hope that love is the beacon for the students’ growth in the subject. Even if the academic subject is not directly related, when a student comes to a teacher for help -- their mentorship, expertise, and counsel -- teachers too will want to help these students thrive. Of course, this doesn’t only mean asking for help. Students too should show action as they request the teachers for help; don’t use the teachers for your grades, but learn from them and make changes in your actions.


  1. Social responsibility and consciousness of current events -- students who find common ground on issues or interests with teachers often receive the best recommendations; and though this is obvious, the difficulty of being able to find such common ground does come with maturity and knowledge. There’s nothing more exciting for a teacher to actively be engaged in a discussion that they are themselves interested in, and have opportunities to teach and guide a student within this matter.


In light of all that is going on around us, I pray for everyone’s health and safety. I hope that students will continue to keep up with their school work (online) and continue to develop relationships with teachers (through online messages or letters) until the school year resumes.


Caleb Kim

  • 발렌시아 엘리트학원 원장
  • 661-259-0052
  • valencia@eliteprep.com
  • 26650 The Old Road #130, Valencia CA 91381