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How to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation

August 15, 2019 Embrace Staff

As you probably already know if you’re in the middle of the college application process, college admissions committees often ask for two or three letters of recommendation from teachers, instructors, guidance counselors, or employers. 

Here are a few simple guidelines you can follow to ensure the strongest recommendations possible from the people who are the most familiar with you and your academic work.

Who To Ask For A College Recommendation Letter

Asking for a college recommendation letter can seem daunting for two reasons. First, you might be afraid of being shot down, and two, you have no idea what these teachers will write.

The truth is, most teachers want to help you out, and there are several things you can do to help them help you come across as strong as possible in their portrayal of you.

Guidance counselors and high school teachers will typically write your college recommendation letters, although additional letters can come from coaches and employers. In any case, these letters should be from people who KNOW YOU WELL, both in and out of the classroom. Though she might hold a special place in your heart, that eliminates Mrs. Johnson from third grade, even if you did casually bump into her at the supermarket last week.

Collectively, these letters will inform the college admissions committee of your abilities, character, passions, and personality.

When deciding whom to ask for a college recommendation letter, consider the following questions:

  • ​Is this a teacher with whom I’ve formed a connection?

  • Has this teacher witnessed my growth or development in any way?

  • When was the last time I spoke with this teacher?

  • What subjects did I take with this teacher?

Your 12th grade teachers have likely not yet gotten to know you, unless you took a class with them previously, and you have presumably matured since you were a wide-eyed freshman. Therefore, most letters of recommendation tend to be written by teachers from your sophomore and junior years.

The strongest college recommendation letters don’t always come from the teachers who assigned you the highest grades, but from instructors who watched your academic skills develop.

A letter that says, “Devon struggled early in my history class, but she redoubled her efforts after the first exam, stayed after for help and steadily improved throughout the semester as a result of her hard work and determination” is a lot more compelling that a letter that says “Abigail earned an A+ in my AP Calculus class and she seemed nice based on my limited interactions with her.”

If you are only allowed one teacher recommendation, it’s best to ask someone who taught you a core academic subject. Check the requirements of your colleges; some require letters of recommendation from two specific instructors — one from a math/science course and another from a humanities course. So stay on top of that homework.


When To Ask For a College Recommendation Letter

EARLY. Preferably the spring of junior year. Start by providing your teacher a personal statement of why you feel as though you would be an asset to your specific school(s) of choice. You also definitely want to provide your recommeder with a resume or a list of your accomplishments.

Give your teacher or guidance counselor time to write you a glowing review. At the very least, you should make an in-person request months before the deadline. Arrange a time to speak with your letter writers after class or after school. This ensures that you will have their full attention, and it also makes a good impression by demonstrating that you respect their time.


How To Guarantee a Great College Recommendation Letter

While the common application will automatically email your recommenders once you add them to your online application, this should not be seen as a substitute for an in-person request. Nor should you add a recommender to your common application before asking them in person and giving them all of the materials they may need to fill out their picture of you.

Request, but don’t expect. You will benefit by having your letters of recommendation written by teachers who sincerely want to help you by writing a strong letter on your behalf. If your request is denied, don’t be offended. Be grateful that this individual understands the impact these letters have on your future and respects you enough to be honest about their limitations up front.

Be prepared. When you approach the teachers from whom you’re requesting college recommendation letters, show up prepared with the complete list of colleges to which you’re applying, as well as all of their application deadlines. A resume, short summary of your high school accomplishments, and statement regarding your collegiate plans should also be provided to your letter writers.

Show your gratitude. After the letters are completed, it’s your turn to write! Show your gratitude by writing your recommenders formal thank you notes, and don’t forget to keep them updated as college admissions decisions start rolling in. They’ll be thrilled to know they helped you on the way to achieving your dreams.