\u201cWhat\u2019s the best way to get a good recommendation letter from my teacher? I\u2019m not applying for colleges until next year but want to be prepared. Some of my senior friends are saying they\u2019re screwed because they don\u2019t know who to ask for a positive recommendation.\u201d - High school junior from Illinois You\u2019re on the right track thinking about this now. With almost all college applicants these days boasting top grades and test scores, strong, unique recommendation letters and essays really make the difference. Unfortunately, your senior friends might not have had the foresight in early high school to prepare for a shining rec letter. Most students don\u2019t know: an excellent letter of recommendation takes quite a bit of planning. And not just planning the summer before senior year. It requires awareness of your college goals as early as freshman year. 3 Aspects of an Excellent Recommendation Letter 1. Be from a teacher or coach who has known you for at least 2 years. The length of your relationship with your recommender tells the admissions committee how credible the rec letter is. If your teacher has only known you a few weeks, he or she is less equipped to fully understand who you are as a growing, maturing human being. 2. Reveal the positive aspects of your character and personality outside of the classroom, not just academic performance. Colleges are keen to know your personality, because who you are heavily influences a campus culture. What grades you get in class \u2014 not as much. It\u2019s easy for any recommender to see a report card and tell a college admissions officer that you\u2019re a straight-A student. But can he describe how you treat your classmates and teammates? How you respond to critical feedback? How you think? Answers to these questions matter more. 3. Enthusiastically describe your growth and contribution to your community, whether it\u2019s a classroom, a campus, a club, etc. The key here is enthusiastically. SocratesPost talked to Bryan Enochs, the Director of Admissions at University of Michigan, who said they get way too many lukewarm letters of recommendations. The more enthusiastic an adult like your teacher or coach is about you, the more credible your application seems. It\u2019s one thing to describe yourself as a passionate, unique, and hardworking student. It\u2019s another to hear that from an adult who has taught thousands of students. If they\u2019re so excited about you and an aspect of your growth, why wouldn\u2019t a college be too? The Truth about Stellar Recommendation Letters An excellent recommendation letter does NOT need to be from: \tA famous, influential, or wealthy individual. Unless this person also happens to be a close teacher or mentor who has witnessed positive changes in your growth. \tAn alumnus of the college. Unless it\u2019s coming with a million plus dollar donation. \tA great writer. Some teachers aren\u2019t the best writers and admissions officers know that. They\u2019re not trying to nitpick their grammar and sentence structure. You won\u2019t be able to read your recommendation letters, most likely. Some teachers will be willing to show you, but colleges will think your letter is less credible if you read it before submission. Start early. When I was applying for college as a senior, I asked my 10th grade Honors British Literature teacher for a recommendation letter only several weeks before the deadline. Needless to say, she did it but was not thrilled about the short notice. Let\u2019s make sure that doesn\u2019t happen to you. How to Prepare for Recommendation Letters Today The earlier you start doing the following, the more choices you\u2019ll have when it comes time to ask for rec letters. 1. Ask. Ask your teacher questions. It could be about the course material, homework, class projects, or even your teacher\u2019s career. Even if you don\u2019t have any burning questions, ask anyway. Why? This helps them remember you and set you apart from your other classmates who just show up and leave after class. This shows you are curious and engaged. 2. Stay. Stay after class if your teacher offers tutorial or homework help. The more time you spend with them, the more they\u2019ll believe they have a relationship with you. When it comes time to write your letter, they won\u2019t struggle to remember who you are. 3. Share. Share with them your concerns, struggles, ideas, or successes. Was a project difficult for you? Do you have a great idea that you want to run by someone? Are you Talk a little about yourself so they know you. Do this consistently over the course of multiple semesters or years, and your teachers will have an easy time describing who you are, how you think, and how you\u2019ve matured throughout high school. 4. Volunteer. Does it seem like your teacher needs help? What do you think you could do to make his or her life easier? Does he or she advise a school club? Volunteer for those opportunities, even before they are mentioned. Notice, observe, and be involved.