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English teacher speaking with student

Five Tips to Get the Great Teacher Recommendation You Deserve

By Greg Moody, assistant director of admission

As you navigate the private school application process, you’ll need recommendations from adults who know you, such as teachers, counselors, and coaches.

Do not underestimate the power of a recommendation in the selection process. It carries weight when high school admission committees review your file. So how do you get the great teacher recommendation?

As early as you can, select and approach the adults you’d like to write your recommendations.

This is not only the courteous thing to do, it also gives them more opportunity to get to know you, consider your best qualities, and come up with more concrete examples that illustrate your personality. 

All boarding schools are looking for recommendations from your current math and English teachers, so start those conversations early. But don’t give teachers the forms to fill out as soon as the current school year begins — wait a little while, so they aren’t tempted to fill them out before you have started to shine in class.

Make sure these teachers get to see you beyond your test scores, homework, and class participation.

Show initiative and drive by approaching them for extra help if you need it, or make yourself available to help struggling classmates. Make a connection with your teacher by talking about hobbies, arts, or sports, and you likely will find common ground. Remember that if you form a bond with a teacher, they will be able to write a more credible and complete recommendation than a teacher who barely knows you.

Even if you think your math and English recommendations won’t show your best side, you don’t have to go looking for additional recommendations. But you can.

Letters from other academic teachers rarely provide new insights. That said, they’re not necessarily a bad thing. Your first instinct may be to find a teacher whose class you “aced,” but it is more important to find the teacher who can provide a unique point of view about you in the classroom. 

Think about a class you struggled in at first, but then you turned it around. Consider a teacher whose class you work the hardest in despite earning a not-so-great grade. Resilience and determination are important qualities, and admission officers at private schools know that they’ll come in handy at a rigorous college-prep school.

Find at least one extracurricular or personal recommendation, even if it is not required by the school to which you are applying.

Art teacher working closely with student

A well-written and pertinent letter on a candidate’s behalf completes your panoramic portrait. It could prove to be the difference in the eyes of the boarding school admission committee. It’s important, however, not to overdo it — one detailed, superior recommendation trumps several general or vague letters.

Ask people who see you involved in an activity you are passionate about.

Selective admission committees read three or more applications for each spot at the school and each applicant file has at least three letters. You need to work hard to stand out. Some of the best letters come from Girl Scout troop leaders, camp counselors, baseball coaches, or piano teachers. Think about people in your life who see a different side of you and could help reveal your personality and passion.

Soccer coach patting player on the back.

As somebody who has worked in education for nearly 20 years, I can tell you that educators enjoy writing about students who have made strong impressions on them. We like to talk about students who have shown tremendous growth or passion on a team or in a club or class. If you’ve done that, it will show up in your letters of recommendation.

The NMH Admission Office is ready to assist you with the process of applying to private school. If you have any questions about your application, contact a teacher or counselor at your current school or — even better — contact an NMH admission counselor. They will always be willing to help.

Our admission counselors work with students and families every day and can answer your questions about every step of the process. We offer many opportunities to connect, including Open Houses and Class Visit Days. Admission counselors can set up tours and interviews so you can get a better look at what NMH has to offer, and our free workshops can help you navigate the application process.

Here’s an overview of the application process. In other blog posts, you can read tips for finding a private school that’s right for you, making your application shine, and writing a winning essay. In a future post, we will offer advice on how students can stand out during an interview.