Sean is Lazy and Rude. You Should Accept Him to Your School Anyway.
Believe it or not, recommendations—a.k.a. the portion of your application that is completely out of your control—can change the opinion of the person considering you as a potential student. I've been swayed by them too many times to count.
One of the best recommendations I've seen came from an art teacher who began by saying, "Sean will never be on time for class. Sean will look for every possible excuse to procrastinate and will be the wise-comment student day in and day out. But, when Sean does produce work, he is by far the most talented, most awe-striking student I've seen in my 25-year tenure. You'd be silly to not consider him as an asset to your program."
Sean (whose name has been changed) did not have impressive grades, and his other recommendation was painfully generic. But his art teacher's compelling words convinced me to reconsider Sean and invite him in for an evaluation interview.
AP_Nerd asked whether recommendations should come from junior or senior year teachers. The answer is: it doesn't matter. What's important is that you find a teacher like Sean's—someone who knows you well and believes in you (even if s/he didn't give you straight A's). The year in which your teacher taught you is irrelevant if s/he is able to portray you as a successful student and college prospective.
On that note, make sure at least one of your recommendations is from an ACADEMIC teacher, someone who teaches math, science, a social science, English, or a foreign language. If you're applying for something less traditionally academic—an art or fashion program, for example—and you've taken related courses at your high school, by all means, please do include a recommendation from one of these teachers, too! But use it as an addition, not as your sole teacher recommendation.
Why is it important to solicit recommendations from academic teachers, even if you plan to study sculpture or public relations? Because in most college curricula, regardless of your major choice, you will still be reading, researching, and writing throughout your four years on campus, and chances are you didn't do many 10-page research papers using MLA format in Graphic Design 2. Colleges need to be sure you can handle core requirements as well as classes in your major.
Got a question for Corinne? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.