Do you dream of being successfully admitted to college?
Well, you probably know that admission is a long process that includes many challenging steps. One of them is a recommendation letter: a document written on your behalf that describes your characteristics as a student. If done well, such a letter may significantly increase your chances of getting into the college of your dreams.
If you’re unsure how to handle this step, don’t worry: our custom-writing team is here to help you. In this article, we’ll explain how to ask for a letter of recommendation for college and get an excellent one that will surely enhance your application.
☝️ How Important Are Letters of Recommendation?
First, you work to build your reputation, and then your reputation works for you. Often, we only understand this rule when it’s already too late. But as a soon-to-be student, you should take it seriously.
Some colleges regard recommendation letters as more important than any other information. When the competition is fierce, grades aren’t always the deciding factor. If this is the case, glowing letters of recommendation are an absolute must.
Here are a couple of things that recommendations can do for you:
- Demonstrate that you’ve done an excellent job impressing your teachers. The fact that they’re willing to praise you in a letter will speak volumes about your trustworthiness and diligence.
- Express things about yourself that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious to the admission board. Your test scores don’t say much about your personality, do they? That’s where letters of recommendation will come in handy to point out your qualities and skills.
Now, who can assist you with these letters? Teachers are probably the first people who come to mind. However, you can also turn to your mentors, employers, clients, coaches, or other people who know of your academic or professional capacities well enough.
📩 Getting Perfect Recommendation Letters in 8 Steps
How to Prepare for Your Letter of Recommendation
Receiving the letter itself is the result of a well-thought-out plan. Let’s see what it takes to get that result worry-free.
1. Decide How Many Letters You’ll Need
The number of letters you’ll need depends on the colleges you are applying to. Different schools may have drastically different requirements, so it’s a good idea to review their instructions before talking to the people who will write your letters. Following instructions is the first step of a successful application process.
Here is what the requirements usually look like:
|🔵||Some colleges ask for 0 recommendation letters. For some students, this may be good news. For others, it could feel like a missed opportunity to make an additional impression. Why not contact the admissions office and ask if they would read your letter if you send one? Some will agree to read it, and others might tell you not to bother.|
|🟢||Sometimes a school doesn’t want any letters of recommendation but requires one from a counselor. Again, if you feel like sending a teacher’s letter is imperative, we advise you to check the college’s website or ask the admission officers whether they’re willing to read your recommendations.|
|🟡||Most schools require 1 or 2 letters, which is probably the best option for a student—not too many, not too few.|
|🔴||Military schools take it to the next level by asking students to submit 3 or 4 letters.|
Now, what about extra letters? This is usually a case of “more is not always better.” Make sure the school you’re applying to will accept an additional letter of recommendation. If they clearly state they do not want any extra documents, then by all means, only send what’s required.
2. Choose Whom to Ask
Now that you’ve established the number of letters you need, it’s time to choose the people you’d like to ask. We suggest first checking the requirements of each college since they may want to hear from specific people in your life.
Try to choose people who:
- Know you well and have had a chance to observe you in different situations. They will be able to explain how versatile you are and describe your character.
- Teach core subjects or the ones you’re going to study at college. They will be able to paint a better picture of your academic achievements in the sphere of your interest.
- Remember who you are, that is, taught you in the last year or two. It ensures that they will describe the person you are now, not the elementary school version of you.
In case you haven’t formed a close relationship with any teacher, early preparation is crucial. If you started thinking about your application in advance, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to make friends with some of them before asking for letters of recommendation. Make sure they know about your best character traits, skills, and interests that demonstrate the kind of person you are.
- Pro tip: If you still have a couple of years before college, or even just one, always remember about the importance of your reputation. The better it is, the higher the chances you will get wonderful letters from your mentors.
3. Gather Necessary Information
There’s one more thing we should all remember: people appreciate when others value their time. You wouldn’t want someone asking you to do a ton of work with two days left until the deadline, would you?
Your teacher may have to write several letters of recommendation, do their usual work, and live their everyday life too. They will thank you if you approach them with all the necessary information when there’s still plenty of time before the admission deadline.
The information needed for the letter may include:
|🏅 An overview of your academic achievements.||Have you won a contest, been exceptionally good at a sport, or never missed a class? Don’t forget to mention your impressive achievements!|
|🔮 Your future college and career goals.||Writing them down may be good for you, even if you haven’t seriously thought about it yet.|
|📝 Your professional resume.||Remember any summer work you’ve done. Write about the responsibilities you took on and qualities you cultivated.|
|🎓 A list of colleges along with their requirements.||You don’t want your teacher to have to look for this information in their free time.|
|✅ Practical information: word limits, deadlines, and submission tips.||There are different ways to submit letters of recommendation. Your teacher will need to know which one is preferable for each college.|
|🏆 Important projects or activities you participated in.||Have you done any volunteer activities or worked on the school newspaper? Include this info!|
|⭐ Any aspects of your personality you want to highlight.||It’s okay to praise yourself, but if it’s difficult for you, ask your parents and friends. We recommend that you also include anecdotes from your life to prove whatever you’re describing.|
4. Mind the Deadlines
As you probably know, there are 3 main application deadlines: early action, early decision, and regular. Once you’ve made up your mind, it’s time to think about your letters of recommendation. It may be a good idea to tackle them first and then move on to the other parts of the application.
Asking for a recommendation at the end of your junior year is a win-win situation for both you and your teacher. You can forget about the letters for a while and focus on the other aspects of the application process. Meanwhile, your teacher will have enough time to write the letter without any rush.
How long does it take to write a letter of recommendation? Well, it isn’t something you can do in an hour. It takes time, planning, good ideas, and careful wording. The absolute minimum you should give your teacher is a month.
- Pro tip: Don’t panic if you have to establish a good relationship with them first. Even if you don’t have much time left, you can still succeed if you do things correctly.
How to Request and Get Strong Recommendations
Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to move on to the next step of the process. Your success largely depends on how you request the recommendations. Let’s see how to do it best.
5. Contact the Recommenders
Naturally, the first step you want to take is to get in touch with the teachers you’ve chosen to represent you. Here’s how to do it well:
📌 Do it on time. As we’ve established, you should always give your teacher enough time to complete whatever favor you’re asking of them.
📌 Do it respectfully. Don’t run up to your mentor during a break for a 5-second conversation. Another way not to ask is with a crowd of friends who also want this person to write their letters of recommendation. Bombarding someone with the same request in a large group is a sure way to annoy them.
📌 Do whatever depends on you. Some colleges require printed copies of recommendations to be mailed to them. If that’s the case, ensure you provide the person writing recs for you with envelopes, stamps, and everything else they might need.
📌 Do what’s requested of you. Your recommender may require you to send them some personal information before they can sit down to write the letter. It should be your top priority to provide it as soon as possible.
📌 Do what’s right. Genuinely expressing your gratitude is the best thing you can do. Write a thank-you note or come up to the teacher and thank them in a heartfelt way.
6. Request the Letter Properly
Requesting the letters is not easy, and it deserves a separate article. But we will share with you some excellent tips that will surely make it more manageable.
Of course, your teachers have your best interests at heart, but technically speaking, writing a letter isn’t something they’re obliged to do. Don’t take their help for granted and try your best to do your part well!
Now, what’s the best way to take the initial step and bring up the question for the first time?
Ask them in person, of course! It is by far the politest way to ask someone to do something for you. If that’s impossible, you can email the person you’ve chosen to ask, but consider talking to them first.
Here’s a sample of how you can begin your letter or conversation:
This is Sophie M. I was wondering if you could write me a letter of recommendation for college. I deeply respect you as a teacher and feel we have established a great relationship. You know my strengths and personality well. I feel like you could help me boost my application with a nice recommendation! Do you think it would be possible?
7. Follow Up on the Letters of Recommendation
We cannot expect our teachers to remember everything all the time, so it’s wise to remind them about the letter after a while. Once the person has agreed to help, you can tell them that you’ll send them all the details in a couple of weeks.
Don’t forget to include the necessary information we mentioned previously. Apart from the personal information you’ve gathered, your teachers will appreciate if you include instructions and samples of recommendation letters, especially if that person has never written one before.
Consider sending them links to the following helpful resources:
- Sample Letter of Recommendation | The City University of New York—an example of a strong recommendation with an explanation of what makes it good.
- Recommendation Letter Template | University of Washington Bothel—a sample framework you can use as inspiration.
- How to Write a Positive Letter of Recommendation | The Balance Careers—plenty of tips with bonus samples.
- How to Write a Recommendation Letter for Your Student | Intake Education—guide for writing each letter part, tips, and a sample.
Here’s a brief plan for a solid follow-up letter:
- Start by thanking the writer once again.
- Include whatever information they requested when agreeing to write the letter.
- Attach your resume.
- List the colleges your letters need to be sent to and ways to do that.
- Include anything else you can think of that could make the letter more complete.
And here’s how you can start your letter:
This is Sophie M. I’d like to thank you once again for agreeing to write my letter of recommendation! Your help is priceless.
I’ve attached all the necessary docs and lists to this email. If you have any other questions, please, don’t hesitate to contact me!
8. Thank Your Teachers for Their Letters
How can you choose the best way to express your gratitude? Well, it depends mainly on your recommenders, but here are some options to consider:
- Writing a heartfelt thank-you note is the safest option. Your teacher will be able to cherish it forever. It’s a great way to ensure they keep fond memories of you.
- Even if you’ve already sent them a note, you should also thank them in person. In fact, you could bring them the note yourself and thank them while giving it to them.
- In addition to a note, you could try to find a thoughtful present for your recommender. Remember if they shared something personal about themselves. Maybe they’re a fan of a sports team or a music band. Perhaps they mentioned they were looking for a special edition of their favorite book. Try getting something like that, or even a simple gift card.
✨ Bonus College Recommendation Letter Tips
Now you know all about requesting glowing recommendations. You’re almost ready to get one yourself!
But before you go, we’d like to share more awesome tips with you to ensure that you get the letter of recommendation and the process goes as smoothly as possible:
|✍️ Consider completing a questionnaire.||Some schools publish custom forms for students to fill out. These can be a great help for your teacher. Some may even have their own questionnaires, which you can send in with the follow-up letter we’ve mentioned.|
|☹️ Don’t despair if a teacher says “no.”||Unfortunately, your chosen teacher may not have enough time to write your letter. They might already have to work on many recommendations or simply be exhausted from their work. Whatever the reason, if you tell yourself in advance that a “no” is a possibility, it will be easier to accept. Stay polite, thank them for their time, and set out on the journey of finding another person to recommend you.|
|📅 Make sure the information in the letter is up-to-date.||Your achievements at the age of 7 will certainly put a smile on anyone’s face. However, we recommend writing about more recent events to paint a better picture of what kind of student you have become.|
|⚖️ Waive your FERPA rights.||FERPA stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. It protects the confidentiality of your education records and allows you to review and amend them. Waiving these rights means you will not have the opportunity to read and correct the letter before it is sent to the college of your choice. Such letters are regarded as more trustworthy.|
|📥 Double-check to see if your letter is submitted.||It’s okay to ask your teacher if they have sent the letter to ensure everything is going according to your plan. However, if you feel uncomfortable doing so, you can always ask the admissions office.|
|👍 Submit a letter even if it’s “optional.”||It’s a good idea to do all the optional things when it comes to college applications (unless it is explicitly stated that letters are not wanted.)|
|❌ Avoid directly copying samples and templates.||You can use them for inspiration and show them to your teacher as an example. Still, a personal touch is crucial for a solid recommendation.|
|❓ Ask what kind of letter your teacher will write.||Will they be able to write a detailed letter showcasing your best qualities? Do they have enough time and experience in writing recommendations? Of course, you can’t ask them whether the letter will be good or bad, but you may inquire about what information they usually include. This will give you some ideas about what to expect.|
With this ultimate guide on how to ask for college recommendation letters, you’re bound to succeed! Remember to follow all the steps, and don’t forget to tell us which ones helped you the most in the comment section below.
Good luck with your admission process!