Letters of Recommendation in a Virtual World
A good letter of recommendation for college is predicated on having a good relationship with your teachers. In “normal” times (remember all the way back to 2019?), you develop this relationship relatively organically because you see your teachers daily in school, and can engage them in conversation. And they see you in class, working hard, interacting with other students, and responding to life in the classroom.
But today, things are a bit different. Online and hybrid teaching models severely reduce time in a group setting, and they also impede personal communication between students and teachers.
To help you navigate this weird situation, we have put together a list of things to consider as you try to foster good relationships.
These are in no particular order, but you should consider doing as many as you can to help ensure that your teachers can write awesome letters on your behalf.
In all of these recommendations, engagement is key. Especially right now, teachers have a hard time knowing if their students are even up and out of bed, much less actively participating in the course. Teachers want to know that you are trying to learn, that you are making the best of this learning situation, and that you are an eager participant in the class.
First of all, think about etiquette. Part of the letter of recommendation is an assessment of your behavior in the classroom. If there is no classroom–or only a part-time classroom experience with a hybrid model of learning–then you have to consider how your teacher will experience your behavior in this virtual world. So here are some suggestions.
- Always turn your camera on and make an effort to seem (and be!) engaged.
- Use the chat or conversation functions in the virtual classroom environment to ask questions, make (relevant!) comments, especially when prompted.
- Respond to teacher requests for participation. Dive in and do your part to keep the class moving.
- When in online break-out groups, do what you can to lead and contribute in productive ways.
Engage With Your Teacher Beyond Class Time
In addition to classroom behavior, teachers will be asked to evaluate your engagement in the class and with the material. This is harder to demonstrate in the online world. But you can make an effort to show the teacher that you are interested in the class, the materials, and the assignments you are given. In these stressful times, teachers really want to know that their students are trying their best to stay engaged both in and out of class. So reach out!
- Once or twice a month, go to the “office hours” your teacher may hold. Ask questions, ask for additional help, or just shoot the breeze about what you are learning.
- If the “office hours” are inconvenient, end an email requesting a one-on-one meeting with the teacher. Let the teacher know what you’d like to discuss (see ideas below).
- When you have questions or concerns–or comments or ideas–reach out with an email. Personal contact is better, but sometimes in the online world email is the default. But if you want to get fancy, consider using a video tool like Loom to record a quick video of yourself asking a question. This is way more personal, and going this extra mile is likely to make a good impression.
Give Your Teacher A Hand
- Sometimes it’s hard to know what to talk about with teachers during these “office hours” or in one-on-one meetings. Here are some ideas for generating conversation with your teachers in these virtual meetings.
- Review a recent test, paper, or assignment and ask about how you might improve next time.
- Ask about upcoming projects, assignments, or tests to get a jump on what you should be studying.
- Request some advice about choosing a major or selecting colleges. Ask how your teacher chose his or her college or major.
- Find out if the teacher will be teaching the next class you might take in the same subject next year. For example, will your current pre-calculus teacher be teaching calculus next year? (Perhaps, if this is a teacher you like, you should try to get into that class).
- Ask for recommendations about books to read, podcasts to listen to, or other resources that will help you explore content of the course outside the requirements of the class.
Perhaps your offers to be helpful will not result in much. But the offer will definitely be appreciated and communicate an enthusiasm for what you’re learning. Just as students are struggling with the online and hybrid class formats, teachers are struggling, too. The simple, empathetic gesture of an offer to help will be warmly welcomed.