Some colleges will ask for two or three letters of recommendation during the application process. These letters should be written by someone who can describe your skills, accomplishments, and personality.
Why do colleges ask for recommendations? Colleges value recommendations because they:
- Show your talents beyond test scores and grades.
- Describe real-life examples of your personality and character.
- Discuss your relationships in the academic community.
A recommendation letter can help your application stand out, especially when it highlights your skills, accomplishments, and positive attitude toward education.
When Should I Ask for a Recommendation Letter?
Teachers need as much time as possible to complete a recommendation letter. They often have many recommendation letters to write, along with lesson planning and grading.
You should try to get your request to them as soon as possible, but give your references at least a month to complete and submit your letters. The start of your senior year is a good time to begin asking teachers for recommendation letters, especially if you’re applying for early decision. Remember, the more time your teacher has, the more likely they'll write you a thoughtful, detailed letter.
Who Should I Ask to Write a Letter of Recommendation?
It's up to you to find people to write academic letters of recommendation. These tips can help you through the process:
- Read each of your college applications carefully. Schools often ask for letters of rec from a specific person, such as a core subject teacher, specific subject teacher, or school counselor.
- Get advice from teachers, counselors, and family members on who would be best to write your recommendation letters.
- Be sure to select a current teacher or one from your junior year, preferably one who knows you well. Don't choose teachers you had several years ago, since colleges want to know who you are and what you are like now.
- Teachers who know you outside of the classroom are a good choice. Consider a teacher who led a club you were in.
- If requested by the college, you can also think about other adults who know you well. A coach, employer, or club adviser can say a lot about your skills and character. Ask your admissions officer if it okay to submit recommendations beyond what is required by the college.
- Above all else, choose someone who will be enthusiastic about writing your letter.
- If you’re unsure about asking someone in particular, politely ask if he or she feels comfortable recommending you. That’s a good way to avoid letters that sound weak or forced.
How to Be Sure You Get a Glowing Letter of Recommendation
Some teachers write many recommendation letters each year. While teachers don't intend to, their letters can start to seem generic after a while. Make it easy for them to give positive, detailed information about your achievements and your potential by refreshing their memory so that they can share specific details about your school career.
It can also be helpful to provide your teacher with a resume or “brag sheet.” Something you might want to include on your brag sheet or in your discussion with your teacher include:
- Your class participation
- Some of your best work/projects
- What you learned in their class
- Anything they need to discuss for specific work examples
If you need to get a college letter of recommendation from a counselor, be sure to do the following:
- Make an appointment to meet with your counselor if that’s an option, or follow your school’s specific process for receiving a counselor recommendation.
- Discuss your skills, accomplishments, and hobbies. Also, talk about what you want to do in college and beyond.
- If you have low grades or any other issues on your transcript, talk to your counselor about what happened and what you've done to improve.
It's also a good idea to follow up with your teacher or counselor to see if they have any questions on what is listed on the brag sheet or need more information. And don’t forget to say, “Thank you!”
Final Recommendation Tips
Before asking for a letter of recommendation, remember these tips:
- Waive your right to view recommendation letters on your application forms. Admission officers will trust them more if you haven’t seen them.
- Requests for recommendations are often sent via email. Make sure that they have the correct email address of the recommender.
- Let teachers know the deadline for each college and ask them about their preferred turnaround time.
- You can keep track of your letter of recommendation submissions in your application portal. You can politely follow up with your teacher if the deadline is approaching but you see your letter has not been submitted yet.
- Once your letters are complete, write a thank-you note to your references. Once you decide which college to attend, you can also tell your references where you’re going and let them know how much you appreciate their support.
Below are some of students' most-asked questions about how to ask for a college letter of recommendation.
How do I address a recommendation letter?
Be sure to give your teacher or counselor the instructions for how the recommendation will be submitted, but most recommendations are sent through an application portal. Instructions are usually provided to the recommender in the electronic request they receive from the portal.
How do I ask teachers for letters of recommendation?
It can seem daunting to ask a teacher for a recommendation, but remember that your teachers are among your biggest supporters and they want you to succeed.
The best way to ask is to simply ask. Find a time when your teacher isn't busy and ask them directly. Don't go with friends, and try to avoid emailing. Be sure you have any information your teacher may need to write the recommendation and give them plenty of time to complete it.
How should I ask for a letter of recommendation by email?
Try to avoid asking by email if at all possible. However, if you're in an unavoidable situation—for example, you or your teacher changed schools—then emailing is fine. Start by reminding them of who you are, and tell them something specific you liked about their class.
Be sure to include any links they may need. In most cases, once you have asked your teacher or counselor if they are willing to write a letter of recommendation, you will then submit the recommendation request via your application platform, like Common App. Your teacher or counselor will receive the request directly from the portal. You should confirm specific instructions for each institution or scholarship that you need a recommendation for. If the letter has to be sent through the mail, get their mailing address so that you can send them the information plus an addressed and stamped envelope.
How do I politely ask for a letter of recommendation for college?
Some teachers get so many requests for college recommendation letters that they simply can't accept them all. You can often make yourself stand out just by being polite.
Ask your teacher at an appropriate time during the day, and be sure to ask as far in advance as possible. Provide your teacher with anything they may need, like an email address or letter template, work samples, resume, and anything else that can be helpful. When you make it easy on your teacher, they'll be more likely to say yes.
How do I request a letter of recommendation from a principal?
Stop by the school office or send an email requesting a meeting with your principal. Be direct, and ask politely. As your principal probably won't have as much knowledge of your academics, you should prepare a summary and a resume. Don't forget to ask your principal as far in advance of the letter's due date as possible.
How do I ask for a letter of recommendation from someone I don't know well?
While you should always try to choose teachers who know you well for your recommendation letters, sometimes, you have no option. You should only use this option if the school you are applying to requires a letter of recommendation and you have not established a relationship with any teachers or counselors. Otherwise, you should always ask someone who knows you well. When asking someone you don't know well, the best option can often be asking them in person and then telling them more about who you are.
If the first conversation goes well, you can send a follow up email more information and consider requesting another meeting. Since they don't know you well, be sure to have a resume and a summary of your time and accomplishments in their class.
Who should I not ask for a letter of recommendation?
You may be tempted to ask a well-known teacher, but if that teacher doesn't know you well, the letter won't mean a lot. You should also avoid teachers that you had several years ago.
Don't ask a family member or a friend for a recommendation as a college may not take them seriously. You should always follow the guidelines from the colleges you are applying to when choosing who to write your letter of recommendation. Finally, if you have a teacher that doesn't have the best opinion of you, avoid asking them for a recommendation letter.
What should a college letter of recommendation include?
A recommendation letter should feel personal to the school: The teacher should state why you'd be a good fit for that particular college, and should include information that will not be found elsewhere on your application. For example, your letter of recommendation shouldn’t repeat the list of student activities already on your college application. It should include any relevant projects or work you've done. Experiences that relate to your character and academic potential are helpful, too. The teacher should include specific details about their experiences with you. Letters of recommendations can be brief and bullet points are fine! Remember that admissions officers are reading thousands of these letters, so sometimes less is more.