Four Teachers’ Thoughts on Recommendation Letters

After a wild college application season, IMSA teachers have a few suggestions for students on asking for letters of recommendation. | Source:

Co-authored by Jodie Meng (’20), Mara Adams (’20), Grace Yue (’20), and Peter Baffoe (’20).

For those of you starting to think about asking teachers for college recommendations, or recommendations for summer programs and internships, The Acronym has collected responses from IMSA teachers about the best way to go about doing that… whether you’re asking 2 months, 2 weeks, 1 day, or 1 hour (please don’t) before the deadline. 

Our main conclusions:

  • Only ask teachers for whom you actually tried in their class.
  • Ask AT LEAST 2 weeks before the deadline, but preferably even further in advance.
  • If you’re asking an hour before the deadline, college may not be the right place for you. Just a thought.

About how much time does it take you to write, edit, and submit one rec letter to a Common App school?

Anonymous: “2 hours.”

Devon Madon: “About an hour.”

Tracy Townsend: “Roughly 45 minutes.”

Peter Dong: “1 hour, though it gets shorter when I have a lot of them.”


What is the optimal amount of advance notice for a student to give you? Please be more specific than just “ASAP.”

Anonymous: “2 or more weeks.”

Devon Madon: “Try to get ideas about who you can ask for a recommendation over the summer and ask teachers early on in the year.”

Tracy Townsend: “5 weeks or more.”

Peter Dong:Two weeks is plenty, but more is fine too.”


What’s the most ridiculous and/or last-minute rec letter request you’ve ever gotten? Please elaborate.

Anonymous: “Tomorrow, from a student who wasn’t very good in my class! In general, unless you stood out in a class, it’s going to be hard for a teacher to write a good recommendation for you. You don’t have the be the 98% student. You do need to be involved, ask and answer questions. You do need to show interest. The student who shows up, for the first time in a year, and tells the teacher, ‘I’ve been thinking of going into your field for my major,’ is not going to get a very warm response. Think about the impression your actions made on your teacher. Were you late often? Did you sleep in class? Was your homework always late? Were you generally unprepared for class? Did your teacher have to tell you to put away your phone, or stop surfing the web? If any of these are yes, you may want to ask a different teacher for a letter…

Devon Madon:Every year, I have at least one student ask for a rec THE day it is due.”

Tracy Townsend: “Oct. 31 for a Nov. 1. The student had forgotten to ask anyone for rec letters and decided at the last minute to apply to a college with a Nov. 1 deadline. It was…not the finest letter I have ever written, for many reasons.”

Peter Dong:Mr. Traina, when he was here, happened to come into IMSA during winter break to set some things up and met a student who was running wildly through the building looking for any teacher who was still around to write a rec.  I think it was December 27, and the deadline was January 1.”


How should students ask for College Recs 2 months before the deadline?

Tracy Townsend: Hi, I was wondering if you have a minute? I’ll be applying to colleges soon and would really appreciate a letter from you, if that’s something you’re comfortable doing. I enjoyed your class and know your perspective on me would be an important part of my application.”

Peter Dong:Do whatever you want – I’ll forget about it by the time I have to write the letter.  Just make sure it’s in Naviance.”


How should students ask for College Recs 2 weeks before the deadline?

Anonymous: “This is a good time. Not so long you forget, not so short you can’t find the time.”

Tracy Townsend:I know this is short notice, but I’ve had some trouble organizing my college application process. Would it be possible for you to write a recommendation letter on my behalf? I really appreciate your consideration either way.”

Peter Dong:I know the CACs tell you otherwise, but I assure you my memory is not so bad that I will forget you that quickly.  It’s not necessary to say ‘I really enjoyed your class a lot, and I felt like I learned…’ – you can save that for your college essays.  The best way is to say, ‘Will you write me a rec?’ And then I say, ‘Sure.’ And that’s all it takes.”


How should students ask for College Recs the day before the deadline?

Anonymous: Never!”

Tracy Townsend:I’m very sorry to put you in this position, but my previous college recommendation plans have fallen through. I know this is unusual, but is there any chance you could write me a brief letter? I’m afraid it’s due tomorrow.”

Peter Dong:Illinois state law forbids employees from accepting gifts of more than $100, so I don’t think there’s any way you can make this work.”


How should students ask for College Recs the hour before the deadline?

Anonymous:Do not darken my doorstep…”

Tracy Townsend: “Do not ask an hour before the deadline. Just don’t.”

Peter Dong:At this point, I don’t actually recommend you go to college.  It doesn’t seem like the right place for you.”


The obvious conclusion to extrapolate from these responses is: when asking for rec letters, always keep in mind that your teachers legally cannot accept gifts of more than $100.

About the Author

Eva Tuecke
Eva is a senior from Lombard who lives in 1506 A-wing. She is super excited to serve as the Co-Editor-in-Chief along with Rachna Gupta for the 2020-2021 school year! Outside of The Acronym, she's involved in Lincoln-Douglass Debate, SIR, and entrepreneurship.

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