Teacher recommendations are an important component of your college admissions package. Getting good recommendations requires picking the right recommenders and asking them the right way; more goes into this process than you might think!
First of all, it’s important to think about the timing of your requests. You want to make sure your teachers have at least 4-6 weeks to take care of the recommendation. That means that if you are applying Early Decision/Action, it's best to try to line up your recommenders at the end of 11th grade or right at the beginning of 12th grade. For regular applications, October of senior year is fine.
A lot of people believe you should only ask teachers who have given you an A for a recommendation. Though that is usually a good idea, it is not necessarily required. Sometimes it's even better to get a recommendation from a teacher from whom you received a B or B+ but who can speak to how dedicated and hard working you were in a topic that you had very little affinity for. That teacher can address characteristics about you that might not show up from a teacher in a class where it was easy for you to get an A.
In some rare cases, you may even want to ask a teacher from whom he received a bad grade for a recommendation. For instance, let's say you received a C in English, mostly due to your work being turned in late, and the quality of the work was more in the B+/A- range. Having that teacher write one of your recommendations could help explain away a bad grade and let the college know that you don't need remedial English freshman year.
It's also generally a good idea, unless you're applying to a specific kind of program like engineering, to have one of your recommendations from a math or science teacher and the other recommendation from a non-math or science teacher. This will demonstrate strength in diverse areas. If you're a student with a great transcript and a very high GPA but very few extracurricular activities, it might benefit you to have one of your recommendations written by a Physical Education, Art, or Music teacher to help in presenting a more well-rounded image of who you are as a person. Ultimately though, you want two strong recommendations, even if they are from teachers in similar fields.
When approaching teachers to write you a recommendation, ask directly "Would you be willing to write me a strong recommendation for college?" Pay close attention to the response. If they hesitate or start to say something like "I'm very busy," just say "Thank you" and move on. A teacher is very unlikely to say to your face "No I think you're a lousy student." In some cases, people have misjudged the relationship with the teacher and asking in person will help make that apparent.
It's also best to get recommendations from teachers whom you had classes with in 10th, 11th or 12th grade. You've grown a lot since 9th grade and that doesn't necessarily represent who you are now. If you ask for a recommendation from a teacher you haven’t worked with for a while, you should come prepared with the best work you did for that teacher. For example, the best essay you wrote for your English teacher will greatly help him or her write you an outstanding recommendation.
And finally, ask your recommenders if there’s anything else they need from you. You want to make sure they feel you’ve given them both plenty of time and the tools needed to write a great recommendation. And if you follow this advice, you’ll get just that: great recommendations.