Teacher References

Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions

Why are teacher references important?

Besides your parents, teachers are the adults who spend significant time interacting with you. Hence, they can be trusted to provide an honest picture of who you are. Teacher recommendations can give admissions officers an insight to what your level of engagement is like in the classroom, your attitude towards classwork, your interactions with peers and your contributions to school-life. Hence, professors will understand what you will be like in their classroom and how you can contribute to university life. JC tutors are especially important as they have seen you perform in a higher-level context and can comment on your suitability for higher education.

When do you need references?

Reference letters are required for the following applications:

  • University Scholarships

    • 1 referee

    • Preferably a teacher who knows you well i.e. Civics Tutor

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  • Local medicine applications

    • 2 referees

    • Preferably a healthcare community leader whom you have worked with or a teacher who knows you well

 

  • Aptitude-based admission to NTU

    • 1-2 referees

    • Preferably an external community leader or coach or CCA teacher

 

  • SUTD applications

    • 1 referee

    • Preferably a teacher who knows you well (preferably Math or Science tutors)

 

  • UK applications

    • 1 referee

    • Preferably a teacher who teaches you the subject that is related to your course of study 

 

  • US applications, HKU applications and Yale-NUS applications

    • Your Civics Tutor should be your school counsellor / official so as to write a holistic recommendation for you

    • You will need 2 other subject tutors to act as teacher recommenders and write referrals for you. CCA teachers are not recommended.

Is there a difference between referees, references, recommendations and referee reports? 

According to some sources, there may be some minor differences. But for your context, they should all mean the same thing!

 
 
How to approach a teacher for reference?

1/   Cultivate a good relationship with your teachers and talk to your teachers!

  • A teacher referral contains anecdotal evidence of your interactions with him/her. It describes your behaviour in class as well as your attitude towards learning. So a teacher must know you well in order to write a referral for you. 

  • The teacher referee who knows you best is not necessarily the one whose subject you performed the best in. But ideally they should be the same.

  • A generic letter of recommendation may reflect poorly on you as much as a negative one.  A letter of recommendation from a notable person i.e. the  Principal who does not know you well, will not hold any weight in front of the admissions committee.

  • Some ways to leave a positive impression on your teacher:

    • Be interested in the subject, ask good questions, submit thoughtful work and read beyond syllabus

    • Regularly consult your teacher to review your work

    • Chat with your teacher, ask advice on academic planning and future career plans

    • Show gratitude to your teacher. A sincerely hand-written card on teacher's day will work wonders

2/   Early bird catches the worm

  • Ask as early as you can. Ideally you should ask at the start of JC2 after your teacher has known you for 1 year. In this way, your teacher can start observing you and noting down anecdotal evidences of your potential and character. 

  • If your teacher does not seem willing, this also gives you the chance to improve your relationship with your teacher. 

3/   Provide ample time for your teacher to write the reference

  • If you approach your teacher only on the eve of deadline of application submission, you may face rejection as this is also the period that many students are approaching teachers for references. And typically, local universities do not give teachers ample time to write the reference.

  • Minimally, you must give your teacher 3 weeks to write the referral. This means that you will have to approach your teacher even before submitting the application form.

 

For overseas applications, follow the stipulated deadlines in the guides provided here.

 

4/   Provide supporting documents and information for your teacher to write the reference

  • On average, a teacher teaches 100 students every year. This does not include ex-students who re-apply for scholarships and universities.

  • You cannot expect a teacher to recall past interactions with you or keep evidences of your outstanding work. If you have not interacted much with your teacher, you also cannot expect a teacher to understand you and your aspirations and be able to write a reference which accurately depicts who you are.

  • These are documents and information that you can provide your teacher, so that he/she can write a more personalised reference for you:

    • Universities and courses that you are applying for​

    • Format of reference submission, character limit (if any), deadline for submission

    • Your personal statement 

    • Your CCA record

    • Copy of your best work / project e.g. essay with positive comments written by the teacher (to remind the teacher of your good work)

    • SGC & University Pre-application reflection form 

      • This​ form is designed not only to help you reflect on your past experiences before applying for universities but also to act as a source of information for your teacher  referee when writing your reference

 

5/   Nurture a relationship with your referee

  • It is not obligatory for your teacher to write a reference for you. Please spare no effort in making the whole process as effortless as possible for your teacher. 

  • Please take the time to show gratitude for the time and effort that your teacher has put in to write the referral for you, whether or not you are successful in your application.

  • If you are unsuccessful and wish to re-apply the following year, you would be approaching the same teacher again. You should take the time to cultivate a long-lasting relationship with this teacher.  

 

3rd week (Feb)

A level results release

19 Mar

Deadline for application submission

Application Period

3 weeks only

Interviews and Selection Tests Period

Your teacher reference must be submitted before the selection tests

24 May

Acceptance deadline

FEB

Start approaching teachers for references as soon as possible after A level results release

MAR

Your teacher will be swamped with reference requests by now. 19 Mar also falls within school holiday period and teachers may become uncontactable by then

Universities typically give teachers only 1 week to complete the reference upon receiving your application form

MAY