An important part of your college applications is letters of recommendation. This piece of information is important to an admissions officer because it is a view of the student from another person’s perspective. The rest of your application is objective. It’s your grades, test scores, and activities that cannot be argued. But a letter of recommendation is how someone else perceives you and views you as a student and an individual.
Teachers, guidance counselors, community leaders, and others are not obligated to write letters of recommendation for you. It’s important that you are requesting your letters of recommendation early and politely in order to ensure success. For more information on requesting recommendation letters, please refer to Tips From The Dean At Yale.
Choose the right people to request letters of recommendation from
Half the battle of requesting letters is choosing the right people to write them for you. You want to be strategic in who you request these from. Most schools require one from your guidance counselor and one from a teacher. While you don’t have a choice in your guidance counselor, the teacher you choose could make a huge impact on your application.
According to the College Board you should consider asking a teacher that knows you both inside and outside the classroom. An excellent choice would be a science teacher that heads the robotics club you’re heavily involved in. Of course, consider your relationship with them. Do you communicate with them often? Do you perform well in their class? Do you participate in the club heavily? If the answer is yes then this would be a great option.
In addition, you should ask a teacher that has known you for a few years. Asking a teacher from freshman year that you never had again might not be the best choice. Consider asking a recent teacher or one that you had for many years. For example, if you are looking to study languages and your Spanish teacher was the same every year this would be someone you can ask.
Ask for your recommendation letter early
Your guidance counselor and teachers are going to get requests from tens to hundreds of students to write letters of recommendation for them. They won’t be able to, realistically, write thoughtful and meaningful letters for every single student. You need to be one of the first ones to get in and request a letter of recommendation so you can give them ample enough time to write it and are one of the first people to get a solid “yes”.
We suggest requesting letters of recommendation at least two months before the due date. This will give this individual enough time to write a thoughtful letter. This provides you enough time to find other recommenders in case the person you asked says no.
Ask them, both in-person and in-writing
When requesting a letter of recommendation it isn’t enough to just knock on their door and ask. You need to make this a formal request and make sure you’re being polite, respectful, and mature.
When you ask someone for a letter of recommendation you need to ask them in person but also send them a formal letter or email. When asking in person you are putting them on the spot and they feel pressured to say yes. They might also be busy and feel rushed to answer you. Writing them an email or a letter gives them time to provide a thoughtful response.
Your email or letter should be short and to the point. You can use our Letter of Recommendation Template and fill in the proper information to suit your situation. You should also consider providing them with a résumé and a brag sheet so they can speak to specific successes and experiences you have had.
When asking in person make sure you are asking politely. Make sure to say “please” and sign off with a “thank you”. Don’t pressure them into giving you an answer right then and there but let them know why you need it and why their letter would be valuable to you.
Like anything with a deadline, you want to follow up and make sure the person is working on the task requested. If you asked a month ago and have not heard back from the recommender, you should gently ask them when you can expect it and remind them of the due date. Don’t send them an abrupt message demanding they submit it, but rather send an email reminding them on the due date. You should reiterate that their letter of recommendation would be of great value to your application.
Make sure you aren’t following up too soon after the request and too often. If you have followed up more than twice and still have not received your letter or word on when it would be submitted, we recommend requesting one from a backup teacher.
Thank the teachers that wrote you a recommendation letter
When it is all said and done and you receive your letters of recommendation, you should be thanking these people. It isn’t enough to just pop into their classroom and say thank you. You should be writing a well thought out letter or email letting them know how grateful you are for their time.
While you won’t be able to read their letter to you, you can assume it was something positive (you hope). These letters are a great insight into you as a student and it could be a huge factor in whether or not you get an acceptance or a rejection.
When you thank your recommender, make it specific. Write them a letter telling them how much it means to you that they wrote you a letter of recommendation. You can also stop by their office or classroom and thank them in person but a formal letter will go a long way.
It is important that you are acting quickly when requesting recommendation letters. We recommend requesting one additional letter from someone that is not a teacher or a guidance counselor just to give your application an additional insight into you. This could include a community leader, your boss at your part-time job, or someone who oversaw a project you led.
Recommendation letters provide admissions officers with insight into you as a person that isn’t just numbers or letter grades. This provides insight into your character and the kind of student you might be.
If you are having difficulty finding recommenders for your college recommendation letters, or need help in any other facet of the college application process, contact us.