Admission Tips from a UPenn Freshman: Asking for Recommendations

November 08, 2013

Most aspects of the college application are self-reported, and while we’d like think everyone is honest, some people will inflate their achievements. Admissions officers need a legitimate reference to ensure that you are as great as you claim. This is why teacher recommendations are so important. I’ll tell you what my criteria was for asking who I asked and how I asked them.

I was applying to schools a bioengineer, so one of my recommendations had to be from a math/science professor. I tackled that. I had an option between two: my junior-year Physics professor or my senior year Artificial Intelligence professor (who also happened to teach me Pre-Calc junior year). They were both some of my favorite teachers, but what ultimately made me pick my AI professor was that I just felt like I had a closer relationship to him. Not to mention that his class interested me much more than physics did, so I was hoping that this passion would translate into a better recommendation.

I still needed one more recommendation for my application, though. So, at least at my school, at the end of every semester, teachers write a few comments about your performance in the class and how they perceive you. Well, during my junior year, I took a pretty rigorous English course and the teacher was a well known English professor (had taught at some universities). I realized through his semester comments that he really, really liked me even though English was not a class I particularly enjoyed. I asked him to write my other recommendation because he clearly held me in high regard and he himself was an expert in his field. I guess I thought his recommendation would hold more weight over another lesser known teacher.

What you should take away from my experience is that first and foremost, you should ask a professor who you are sure truly enjoys your presence in the classroom. If this does not make the decision totally clear yet, then take into account how much you enjoyed their class or how highly regarded they are in their field. Also, make sure that you get at least one recommendation from a professor who teaches the subject/field you might want to major in.

Moving on to the technical part, I asked for recommendations by going to my teachers’ offices and asking them individually. This avoids an awkward encounter in front of a class in case the teacher does not feel comfortable writing a recommendation for you (in which case you should not have asked them) and gives a more professional environment for discussing the specifics of the recommendation. You should prepare everything for the professor who is writing your recommendation: give them a few copies of your resume, the sheet to write the recommendation on (provided by the college if they have one), and the information needed to submit it. Your teacher is doing you the favor of writing this essential portion of your application, don’t make them do more work than they have to. Let them focus on portraying you as a great addition to the university you are applying to.

Most importantly, good luck in all your applications!

P.S Use the referral code SEBI when you register for AdmitSee to get an extra $10 credit! 

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