How to Ask for the Perfect Letter of Recommendation for College
Learning How To Ask For A Recommendation The Professional Way...
For many students, asking for a letter of recommendation for college or university feels like a giant step out of their comfort zone. A letter of recommendation is one of the most important parts of a college application, and the fact that it’s written by someone else can cause students a lot of anxiety. However, there is a simple strategy for asking the right teachers in order to land the perfect letter of recommendation for college!
Read on if you’re ready to learn how to request a letter of recommendation like a professional!
While the bulk of the work for this step of the college application process is on whichever teachers you ask for a recommendation, you can complete some tasks on your end to make their job easier.
We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide for taking the stress out of figuring out how to ask for a recommendation, what information you need to provide, and every step in between.
What You’ll Find In This Article:
- What is a College Letter of Recommendation?
- How to Prepare for Your Letter of Recommendation
- 5 Steps for Getting the Perfect Letter of Recommendation for College
- How to Make Sure You Get a Good Letter of Recommendation
- Sample Letter of Recommendation Requests to Send Your Teacher
- You’re Ready to Request a Letter of Recommendation!
What Is A College Letter Of Recommendation?
A letter of recommendation, when requested by a college or university, refers to a letter written by a teacher detailing what makes a student a strong college applicant. A strong letter written by a current or former teacher who knows you well can give you a competitive edge in the college admission process. Along with your college application essay, your letters of recommendation are your best opportunity to show a college who you really are.
That’s because a letter of recommendation serves as the clearest picture a college admissions board or official will see of each student. It helps fill in the gaps not covered by a resume or transcript. A well written letter should show the type of student the applicant is, making it one of the most important details in the college application process.
But why is a letter of recommendation such an important step in the college admissions process?
Well, colleges place a high value on your letters of recommendation. Unlike your SAT or ACT scores, GPA, and transcript, this letter isn't just another set of numbers and rankings. A good letter of recommendation will create a clear picture of your character, your academic strengths, and everything else that makes you a standout applicant.
However, it’s important to know that each school handles letters of recommendation differently.
Some schools will require multiple letters of recommendation, some schools will require recommendations from teachers of specific subjects, and some schools will require a letter of recommendation from a counselor as well. Make sure you’re well informed on the requirements for your letters of recommendation before you ask for one!
How To Prepare For Your Letter Of Recommendation
HOW MANY LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION DO I NEED?
The amount of letters of recommendation required varies from institution to institution. Most commonly schools will ask for one to two letters of recommendation. More prestigious schools, highly competitive schools, and niche schools often require more letters of recommendation.
Check with each school you plan on applying to for their specific requirements.
WHAT INFORMATION SHOULD I HAVE ON HAND FOR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION?
At the bare minimum, your teacher needs to know your deadlines and how they’re supposed to submit your letter of recommendation. If you’re using the Common Application to apply for college or if your school uses a program like Naviance, the teacher will upload the letter there.
Beyond telling your teacher about the technical aspects of the letter, you should provide them with a big picture of who you are, what your goals are, and the actions you’ve taken towards those values and goals. One of the best methods of providing this information is through a single sheet of paper, and some schools even provide worksheets for their juniors and seniors to fill out, listing their goals and accomplishments.
You can never provide your teacher with too much relevant information!
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH TEACHER TO ASK?
While it may be tempting to ask the most prestigious teacher in your school for a letter of recommendation, that may not always be the best choice.
Since your letter of recommendation is a supplement to the statistics included in the rest of your college application, you should pick the teacher that you feel can paint the clearest picture of you as a person and a student. The teacher that you ask to write your letter of recommendation should be one that knows you well enough to be able to write more than a canned response. Your letter is one of the only chances for your character and personality to be presented to the college admission officials.
Pick a teacher that knows you well enough that they can convey who you are as a student and person.
Additionally, for your main letter of recommendation, you should stick to teachers that teach core subjects such as math, English, and science. Specialty schools or art and music programs are an exception to this rule of thumb; in that instance, pick a teacher who teaches in whatever subject your chosen college or program specializes in.
WHEN DO I ASK MY TEACHER FOR A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION?
The earlier you ask your teachers for a letter of recommendation for college or university, the better!
Teachers are extremely busy, and a letter of recommendation should never be rushed. To ease the stress and burden on everyone involved, you should ask for a letter at least one month out from the deadline.
Early birds may even consider asking their teachers for letters of recommendation in their junior year, right before summer vacation. This allows more than enough time for your teacher to write a strong, professional letter that truly speaks to your abilities as a student and a person.
In the more immediate sense of 'when', the best time to actually approach your teacher to ask for a letter of recommendation is when they're not busy, such as during office hours or at the end of the school day. Definitely avoid asking for a letter during lunch, when your teacher is trying to eat their meal in the twenty minute window of peace they get during the school day.
SHOULD I REQUEST A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION IN WRITING?
While it may seem silly to write a letter to request a letter, making your request in writing is the most professional and organized way to go about asking for a recommendation letter.
If your teacher has a physical letter (or even an email) in their inbox, they’re much less likely to forget about your request. Additionally, taking the time to formally write out your request shows how seriously you’re taking the college admissions process. Teachers adore helping students passionate and responsible about their own futures, and requesting your letter of recommendation in writing is a good way to show that you’re taking this seriously.
HOW DO I HANDLE A TEACHER SAYING "NO" WHEN I ASK FOR A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION?
You should be prepared to have a teacher politely turn down your request to write a letter of recommendation for college. Remember that your teachers have their own complex lives, and often the reason a teacher may say “no” has nothing to do with you.
A solid recommendation letter for college can take over three hours to write; hours that the teacher isn’t getting paid for. Often, a teacher may simply be too busy or may already be writing a handful of letters for other students.Being prepared for your teacher to say “no” makes it much easier to smile graciously and say “thank you for your time.” Letters of recommendation take a lot of unpaid effort on the part of your teacher, and your reaction should show that you understand and respect that.
5 Steps For Getting The Perfect Letter Of Recommendation For College
Despite the fact that your teacher will be doing most of the writing for your letter of recommendation, there’s still plenty of work to be done on your end. Make sure you properly prepare yourself to ask and receive a letter of recommendation.
You don’t want to waste either your time or your teacher’s time scrambling around for important information.
GATHER YOUR INFORMATION
Before you ask for a letter of recommendation, you need to gather any relevant information to provide to your teacher. Teachers are just as human as you are and will appreciate everything you do to make writing your letter of recommendation easier. Try to keep this information short and sweet, as you don’t want to overwhelm your teacher with your entire life story.
The information you should have ready to go includes the following:
- An overview of your academic achievements so far
- Your future college and career goals
- Your professional resume
- A list of each college that will need your letter, along with their deadlines and special requirements
This information can be printed out and given to your teacher once they accept your request to write a letter of recommendation. Another option is to send this information in a follow up email later the same day or week.
Regardless of how you deliver the information, make sure it’s up to date and accurate!
WRITE YOUR LETTER ASKING FOR A RECOMMENDATION
Even if you plan on talking to your teacher in person, drafting a letter or email is still a good way to get your thoughts down on paper. A short letter is a professional way to ask for a letter of recommendation. It also provides a tangible reminder for your teacher every time they check their desk or inbox.
Your letter should hit these three points in a gracious and professional manner:
- Start your letter with the basic rundown of who you are, what class you’ve had with the teacher, the colleges you’d be asking them to send the recommendation to, and what you plan to study.
- Include any logistics for sending the letter that your teacher will need to know. This includes deadlines and how to send your letter of recommendation to colleges once it’s finished.
- Briefly mention why you’re asking this specific teacher for a letter of recommendation. You don’t need to be overly flattering in order for your teacher to say yes; however, don’t be afraid to genuinely compliment or thank your teacher for all they’ve taught you!
Take your time when writing your request letter. If it's written quickly and riddled with mistakes, you may leave a bad impression. Make sure you proofread your letter before sending it off to catch any mistakes or missing information.
Note: Later in this post we’ll provide detailed examples of letters you can send to request a letter of recommendation. You can use these to help you draft your own letter.
ASK AT THE RIGHT TIME
If at all possible, schedule five to ten minutes with your teacher during their office hours or planning period. Avoid trying to use the small periods of time between classes to ask your teacher. You want your teacher to give you an honest answer without feeling obligated to say yes or to hurry the conversation along. Of course, if you’re having trouble finding the time to ask your teacher in person, it’s completely fine to save the bulk of your request for an email.
Once you’ve sent your email, don’t be afraid to mention it to your teacher! A simple, “Hey, Ms. Smith, I sent you an email about helping me out with something for college,” is enough to ensure that your teacher remembers to open the email.
REMEMBER TO FOLLOW UP
Halfway between when you initially asked your teacher for a letter of recommendation and the due date is a great time to follow up. This can be in the form of a short email, note, or conversation. A simple way to follow up is to briefly ask your teacher if they had any questions about you or your college goals in relation to the letter.
Additionally, remember to be polite and thankful whenever you follow up with your teacher. Showing respect, gratitude, and personal responsibility to the person writing your letter of recommendation is an easy way to do everything you can to get the best letter of recommendation possible.
THANK YOUR TEACHER
Writing a letter of recommendation for college is no easy task. Flex your gratitude muscle by writing your teacher a thank you note for their hard work. A strong letter of recommendation can be the cherry on top that gets you into your college of choice, so the least you can do is give your teacher a small gift of appreciation.
Writing a unique letter of recommendation takes time, hard work, and a commitment to doing the best for students. That’s why many students opt for unique, thoughtful gifts for teachers who write their recommendation letters. If your teacher is the biggest New England Patriots fan in the world, get them a Tom Brady bobble head. If your science teacher has mentioned how they’ve been meaning to read Game of Thrones forever, a paperback copy of the first book makes the perfect thank you.
Whatever you choose, make sure it’ll be something meaningful to your teacher, even if it’s only a handwritten note expressing your gratitude.
How To Make Sure You Get A Good Letter Of Recommendation
There’s only so much you can control about the contents of your letter of recommendation for college. This lack of control can lead many students to worry about the quality of their letter. At the end of the day, the student must place their faith in the teacher they ask to write their recommendation.
Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can use to present your request for a college recommendation in the most positive light, leaving your teacher with a good impression of you as well.
We’ve compiled a few tips below on how to conduct yourself and keep up with your responsibilities.
DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST SECOND
There are very few people in the world that get excited about last minute requests, and the chances that your teacher is one of them is very slim. As soon as you know you’ll need a letter of recommendation, you should start the process of gathering your information and choosing which teachers to ask.
A letter of recommendation is not something you should procrastinate on!
Your teacher will appreciate it if you give them ample time to write and revise the letter. Unexpected meetings, events, and schedule changes happen to teachers all the time. The more time you give them to write your letter of recommendation, the less likely they are to run into a time crunch. Waiting until two weeks before the deadline to casually ask your history teacher for a letter of recommendation is not the way to go.
ASK ABOUT TYPICAL RECOMMENDATION LETTERS
The strength of a letter depends on many things, such as the teacher’s experience writing recommendations, how much time they have to dedicate to the letter, and personal knowledge of you. In order to politely get an idea of what type a letter a teacher may write, ask them what kind of information they normally include in a recommendation and how they structure them.
Remember that more than likely, you aren’t the first student to ask your teacher for a letter of recommendation. If you convey that you’re nervous about the process and unsure what information typically goes in a letter of recommendation, your teacher may be willing to explain their personal style to you.
SEND A REMINDER
Don’t be afraid to send a timely reminder to your teacher. A few weeks after you initially ask a teacher for a letter of recommendation, it’s a good idea to touch base with them. Teachers are only human, after all, and we all forget things! A quick note, short email, or a casual conversation after class is all it usually takes.
However, don’t wait until the last minute to remind your teacher about your letter of recommendation. You should keep an open line of communication in case your teacher has any questions about you, your academic life, or how to submit the letter.
BE THANKFUL AND PROFESSIONAL
Every interaction with the teacher you ask for a recommendation should be filled with gratitude and professionalism. Of course, you don’t have to be over the top! A sincere ‘thank you’ and a smile go a long way towards showing your appreciation. While it may seem a bit excessive to write a professional sounding request, follow up with someone, and write them a thank you note, that’s all part of being professional.
Another important part of this is the way that you talk to your teacher. Keep it respectful and polite; don’t talk to your teacher the way you talk to your friends! You don’t want to leave your teacher with a sour taste in their mouth due to your lack of professionalism.
DO YOUR PART
When asking for a letter of recommendation, you want to make it as easy as possible for the teacher writing your letter. Give them all the relevant information about your academic life, extracurricular activities, and future goals. It’s much easier to write an in-depth recommendation letter when you have a clear picture of the person you’re writing about.
Doing your part also includes making sure your teacher knows what to do with the letter of recommendation once it’s finished. If you’re using the Common Application, make sure you have the teacher listed. If you’re applying to one of the few colleges in the country still using snail mail, provide your teacher with an addressed envelope with a stamp.
AVOID COPYING TEMPLATES
It’s important that your letter asking your teacher for a recommendation doesn’t read like a template taken from the Internet. Imagine if they did the same and simply filled in a template for your letter of recommendation! Your teacher will appreciate a unique letter much more than a template with only basic information filled in.
Still, templates have their uses; a template, or examples like the ones we share below, are great for getting an idea of what your request needs to sound like. They also help students struggling with the content or order of their letter.
Use examples and templates like these to draft your own letter requesting a recommendation.
Sample Letter Of Recommendation Requests To Send Your Teacher
We’ve written a few sample letters that show you what a strong request for a letter of recommendation looks like.
Read them over to get an idea of how a professionally written request is presented. Use these examples to give you an idea of how to structure your own request letters.
A REQUEST LETTER SENT BEFORE A CONVERSATION
Dear Ms. Jackson,
Good afternoon! This is Emily Henderson, and I was a student in your 4th period AP Literature course last year. Now that I'm a senior, I'm applying to study English at several colleges. I would be thrilled if you would write me a letter of recommendation that I can submit with my applications.
Your class helped shape my love of the English language, and I feel like you have a good grasp on my passion for writing. You've seen my writing style develop from the rough first essay I wrote in your class to the persuasive essay you helped me revise last month that helped me win a scholarship.
I'm applying to The College of William & Mary, Emory University, and the University of Virginia. I would need the letter by December 1st. I would sincerely appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to help me with this.
Please let me know if you would be willing to write me a strong letter of recommendation. Thank you for taking the time to consider my request, and I hope you have a wonderful day!
In this example, the student hasn’t approached the teacher in a face-to-face conversation about writing a letter of recommendation yet. Because of this, the student helpfully reminds the teacher what class she’s from and what recent projects the teacher helped her with. Her request for a letter of recommendation clearly states why she chose the teacher, which colleges she’s applying to, and their deadlines.
This type of letter works to get a student’s foot in the door. After this, you should try to schedule five to ten minutes to have a face-to-face conversation with your teacher.
During this conversation, you can answer any potential questions the teacher may have, and if they agree to write your letter, offer them your information sheet and resume.
A REQUEST LETTER FOLLOWING A CONVERSATION
Dear Mr. Blankenship,
Hello! This is Benjamin Day following up on our conversation about writing a letter of recommendation for my Oklahoma University and Tulsa University applications. I haven’t decided what my major is going to be yet, but I’m considering fields such as Education or Occupational Therapy.
When we spoke earlier today, you asked why I wanted you to write a letter of recommendation. Your story of perseverance has always pushed me to do better in your class, in our team’s basketball games, and in my summer job. Moreover, your ability to get a class full of teenagers interested in the Civil War has inspired me to consider becoming a teacher myself.
If you have the time to write a solid letter of recommendation for me, I would be very thankful. I would need the letter by January 1st, since my application is due January 14th. Please let me know if this is something you can do! If so, I have a few pages of information to help with writing the letter.
Thank you for taking the time to read this email on a busy Friday. I look forward to our usual 'trash talk' in class Monday after the Bedlam game this weekend! (Boomer Sooner!)
In this example, the student has a more friendly relationship with the teacher and has already asked them in person for a letter of recommendation. Therefore, the student repeats the high points of his request and focuses more on answering the teacher’s questions. This type of letter works both as a follow up and confirmation that the teacher has the time to write a letter of recommendation.
This letter works well because, despite the personal touches, it remains professional and on topic. The student is showcasing his personality while also making his admiration for the teacher clear. You don’t have to write in complicated, overly formal language to get your message across!
THE FORMULA FOR REQUESTING A SUCCESSFUL LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION
Both of these examples follow a basic formula, hitting all three major points we discussed earlier in this article: a general overview of who you are as a student and your plans, the details of which colleges you’re applying to and their deadlines, and why that specific teacher is being asked for the recommendation.
Here’s a quick review of the most important things you can do as you write and send your request for a letter of recommendation:
- Keep your request short, professional, and on topic.
- Avoid copying a template and only filling in your information.
- Make sure you are clear about when your letter of recommendation is due.
- Remind your teacher who you are, especially if you come from a large school.
- Proofread your request letter for spelling and grammar issues.
- Touch base with your teacher to ensure they’ve received your request.
You're Ready To Request A Letter Of Recommendation!
Asking your teacher for a letter of recommendation doesn't have to be stressful. Taking the time to gather your information and prepare before you ask your teacher can take a lot of stress out of the process. The more prepared you are to ask for a letter of recommendation, the easier it will be both for your teacher to write the letter and for you to stop worrying about it.
Ultimately, requesting a letter of recommendation is just one more step in the college admissions process.
Fortunately, we here at WeAdmit strive to make the entire college admissions process as painless as possible from start to finish. Need help identifying which teachers’ recommendations will help you the most? Or perhaps you need advice on approaching these teachers. Working with one of our professional counselors can help you answer tough questions like these and the dozens more that will pop up throughout the admissions process.
Remember that the prep work involved in asking for a recommendation is vital for getting the best letter of recommendation possible. That’s why we’ve set you up with the information you need to get prepped like a pro!
Settle In, Gather Your Thoughts, And Take This Next Step In Applying To College!
7 Tips: How to write an email to a college admissions office
Emailing a college admissions office is no time for spelling errors or etiquette mistakes - this guide and sample email will keep your college emails professional and on point.
2021-2022 SAT Score Release Dates
Check WeAdmit’s 2021 and 2022 SAT calendar for a full list of test dates and SAT score release dates.