How much will a "meh" teacher rec hurt me?

Hi everyone,

I’m looking to apply to top colleges this application cycle, but I’m a little bit worried about one of my teacher recommendations.

I have one teacher rec that I’m confident will be very solid (8+/10), since I was one of her favorite students, got an A+ and won awards in the subject area. She also said she was very excited to write my recommendation.

However, my second teacher recommendation I’m not nearly as confident about. Although I got along with her well, this teacher writes a lot of letters every year, and I feel like I wasn’t one of her favorite students, plus I bombed the AP test (got a 3) in the subject.

Assuming that this second recommendation letter is somewhat average, generic, and doesn’t rank me super highly compared to my peers (still fairly strong though, I got an A in the class and tutored others), will this seriously hurt my chances at competitive colleges?


If you got a 3 on the test and she doesn’t like you very much, IMO would ask another teacher (make sure you have two different departments i.e. one humanities/social sciences and one stem, or at least two different subjects.) Unlike counselor letters where you don’t get to choose who writes it, you CAN choose who writes your teacher recommendation: especially if you’re applying to selective schools, you want to put your best foot forward.

I would also recommend not self-reporting the AP test score if you’ve taken multiple other AP tests: colleges won’t question why you’re not reporting one score out of many others, and it’s especially common for subjects outside of your interests or if you plan to retake the course in college. However, if the test is in your area of interest, that’s a different story.

Hope that helps!

Thanks for the advice! At my school, we ask teachers for recommendation letters very early, and both of the teachers already agreed to write for me. Obviously this happens before AP scores are released in July, so if I’d known my score, I probably wouldn’t have asked that teacher, but I don’t think I could ask her not to write for me at this point.

I’m mostly wondering how much you think this will impact my application. This letter probably won’t be that bad, since I get along with her and did well in the class, but it won’t be “glowing” like my other one probably will.

I think colleges see a lot of “meh” letters of recommendation, not because the students aren’t worthy of a good one, but because teachers vary in their willingness and effort to craft them (some schools don’t provide sub hours or paid time for this and any given teacher may find themselves writing 40+ letters on their own time). However, at a tippy top college it doesn’t take much to take an applicant out of the running, especially at the later rounds. Take your shot, but have several match and safety schools for backup.

A great LOR can add a little oomph to an application. I think a meh one is par for the course. My guess is that the only way it could hurt your application is if it doesn’t “fit” the rest of the narrative. For example, you have painted a picture of yourself as a risk taker and leader and your teacher describes you as a quiet member of the class whose essays take concepts discussed in class and elegantly polishes them.

Since you are past the point of choosing the recommender, I would ask if there is anything you might provide this teacher that could help them write a more favorable rec. If not, let it go. It’s out of your control.

It’s probably too late to ask for any changes to a letter of rec, and you shouldn’t tell a teacher what to write anyway, unless it’s a specific detail. Example: the time the class discussion became heated and you were the one who brought it under control.

The more important thing to remember is that your teacher is a professional. She isn’t going to write you a worse recommendation because you got a 3 on the AP test. She might actually wonder if her instruction lacked in some way, if you are otherwise a good student. And if she wasn’t prepared to give you a good rec, she would have declined to write it for you. You can’t know what the rec said, so let it go.

Yes, it COULD hurt you. When you are talking about ultra selective schools, they have far too many applicants for their spaces , so anything less than perfect can hurt you. If there are many kids with all great teachers recommendations and all other things equal, why would a college pick you?

On the other hand, who knows what other applicants have that are not perfect on their applications? That’s what will determine the effect of a mediocre rec or any other thing that is not stellar on the app