Summer is coming, and you’re probably daydreaming about vacations and beach days and two months without nightly homework. But before yearbooks go out and finals get underway, high school juniors looking to get a head start on the college application process should think about asking teachers for letters of recommendation. Asking early shows that you’re responsible and respectful of teachers’ time, and also ensures that you’ll get recs from your first choices. Wait until the fall, and the English teacher who can rave about you might already be over-committed.

Here’s our step-by-step guide to securing a stellar recommendation.

  1. Pick Who You’d Like To Write Your Letters: Plan to ask two teachers from your junior year core classes: math, English, science, history or foreign language.  You may think it’s more important to get a letter from someone who is “connected,” but that’s not the case — a generic letter from your uncle’s coworker who happens to know someone at the school is far less impressive than a heartfelt letter from a teacher who knows firsthand how well you overcome challenges. Don’t automatically go to the teacher who gave you the easy A, either. Choose teachers who can speak honestly about what kind of learner you are, how you work, and why you would be an asset to any college.

  2. Ask Politely: It may feel awkward to ask for a teacher’s help, but remember that writing a rec isn’t a favor, it is part of the job. (That said, they are certainly not required to write it, so don’t act entitled!) Teachers expect these requests, and if you’ve proven yourself, they will want to help you. Teachers love seeing their students succeed, and want to be a part of that journey. So, if you’ve chosen the right teachers, they will likely be happy to oblige. When you make your request, be sure to do so in person. This shows maturity, something you’ll need to succeed in college. Be polite and to the point: “Mr. Smith, do you have a moment? I really enjoyed your class and have learned so much from you. I think that you have gotten to know me well this year, and  I would be flattered if you would write me a college recommendation for the fall.

  3. Make it Easy for Teachers to Rave About You: Once your teachers have agreed to write your letters, give them everything they need to finish and return the letters on time. Supply both teachers with a list of all the schools you are applying to, and the deadline for their letters. For recommendations being sent via snail mail, provide addressed stamped envelopes, and include the school’s return address. Make sure, also, that you waive your right to read the letter, which will give your teachers more freedom and also compel universities to take the letters more seriously.

And don’t forget, once your applications are in, write each teacher a thank-you note for their effort on your behalf.