A common question I get from parents and students alike, especially in 11th grade, goes something like this:
Hey Pete, what can I do right now to improve my college admissions chances at a highly selective college?
Aside from the standard answers (take rigorous classes and do well; perform well on the SAT/ACT; engage in activities and take on leadership roles, etc.) there is one that may go overlooked, especially if you are seeking admissions at a competitive, highly selective college.
High school students should take the time to develop and nurture relationships with faculty, especially teachers who may be candidates to write recommendations.
Often, the more selective a university, the more emphasis they will place on teacher recommendations when deciding among candidates. Which means that students should be trying from Day One to establish and maintain solid relationships with teachers, especially 11th grade teachers. These relationships are not developed overnight, and the foundation for these relationships should be established during classroom discussion, debate or lessons.
The best way to get a teacher to notice you is to participate in class discussion. If you spend your class time hiding in the back row and flipping through your phone to check out the latest fashions at the Met Gala, then your teacher will have a harder time getting to know you as a student or a person, and even if you are a top performer in a particular class, a teacher will not be able to write a thorough and sincere recommendation if they have never heard you speak up, answer a question, ask a question, or share an opinion. By participating in class you not only demonstrate a curiosity for the subject, but you also establish rapport with your teacher. And, you make your teacher’s job easier by aiding in the delivery of the lesson plan. This will not only help you in getting a better recommendation, but if you ever need any leniency from your teacher – i.e. a review of a particular grade on a test or paper, an opportunity to earn extra credit or grade forgiveness – your chances will be far enhanced if your teacher knows you, has heard you speak, and appreciates your respect for the class and the subject matter.
We recently held a Back in Action Video Challenge, and in one of the videos I discuss the importance of teacher recommendations, and how students should take the time starting at the beginning of the school year (now) to develop and nurture relationships with teachers. These relationships will surely pay dividends down the road. They also make for a richer academic experience, which will better prepare you for life after high school.
If you are the parent of an 11th grader, then your student should pay close attention to the importance of relationships, specifically with teachers. 11th grade teachers are the most likely target for recommendation requests, which should be made at the end of the academic year in May or June. Furthermore, now is the time to sit down and plan out the academic year so that your child is prepared for the busy admissions season to come. Don’t wait until the end of next summer to get started, or your student could miss out on some important opportunities to separate from the pack.