With College Applications in full swing, you may also know by now that there are three externally moving parts to your application:

  1. Teacher Recommendations, 2. Your Transcripts and 3. Test Scores.

First and foremost– all three of these supporting EXTERNAL documents can be submitted prior to or after the student submits the actual Common or Coalition Applications.  Don’t delay gathering and arranging for these documents.

Teacher Recommendations!!

Solicit your teachers as soon as possible.  Remember, teachers are very busy and asking for extra work later in the semester can delay completion of your recommendations.  Let’s look at this logically, if you are at the top of the pile before the school year gets too hectic, your recommendation will be timely and more detailed than if you delay. Out of respect to your teachers and all of their regular teaching commitments, ask sooner in the school year. Ideally, have the following materials ready for your teachers and guidance counselor not later than the first week of school!

Many teachers appreciate knowing what you would like them to speak about in their recommendation outside of the boilerplate language about how well you did in their class.   You can prepare a cover letter for your teachers (and some schools/teachers have a form for you to complete) and speak to any specific topics you want highlighted in your letter. You can jog their memory perhaps by noting something you completed in their class—perhaps you have written a spectacular term paper (mention how much you appreciated their feedback),  an awesome computer program or a final AP science project.  It is also recommended that you have a one page summary sheet of your accomplishments – similar to a resume, but not quite in the same format.  Speak to the classes you’ve taken, your intended college major, any awards or achievements you’ve earned at the local or national level.  Make sure your teachers are aware of the challenging program of study you completed thru your junior year and inform them of what you’ll be taking during your senior year.   Having something on paper serving as a reminder is preferable to an email that is overlooked (This happens every year!).  SEE BELOW

Your teacher may decide to customize each letter of recommendation for each college- but chances are they will write one recommendation and be using it for all universities. ***If you are applying Early Decision – please alert your teacher so the letter of recommendation can perhaps be specific to a particular campus. You can help your teacher by notating in your chart below: “I’m applying to Cornell ED as the program in X is unique and aligns with my experiences including …..”.


Yes, you can submit your application before your teacher writes the recommendation and yes your teacher can submit the recommendation before you submit your application. Same is true for transcripts and test scores.

Step 1: On Common App:   Add the College to your list following my previously provided detailed instructions containing screen shots of “interesting” parts of the CommonApp.
Step 2:  On the “My Colleges” tab, open any college – and on the left hand side bar click:  “Recommenders and FERPA”

You will be prompted to sign the FERPA release—waive ALL your rights –!!!
You will then be prompted to “add recommender” – entering the name, contact information.
Your teacher or external recommender (perhaps a summer college professor) will receive an email and login information.  Your teacher will receive reminders if these aren’t submitted.

Step 3: Once you apply to a college (and I’ll have more to say about this later this fall), you’ll have instructions on where to track and follow the status of your application, including whether all required elements have been received.  Trust me- if something is missing, you don’t want to wait until January – check check check!


I highly recommend that you provide your teachers  with as much information as possible to make this process less time consuming.  In addition to providing your activities resume and perhaps your completed Common App Core essay , a simple one page list with the following information goes a long way in helping your teacher prepare a useful letter of recommendation.



UniversityIntended MajorDueFormat to Submit
HarvardGovernment Via Common Application – email provided
SUNY AlbanyPolitics Via SUNY Portal

Email provided

University of MarylandPsychology Via Coalition App

Email provided

Scholarship XYZn/A Mail to:
Summer ProgramClass Name/ program Email to:


  • PLEASE SEND THANK YOU NOTES and a small gift is provided in April/May when you have placed a deposit at the college you’re attending is appropriate in appreciation of each of teachers writing letters on your behalf.

    Have questions about where to apply?
    Have questions about your Common Application or Coalition Essay?
    Not even sure where to begin?

Bonnie R. Rabin, PhD

Professor Emeritus

Educational and College Admissions Consultant