You put a lot of effort into your summer program applications. Fortunately, letters of recommendation are the only part you don’t have to write. However, understanding who to ask and how to ask for recommendation letters can be confusing and intimidating. Read on to learn more about letters of recommendation and how to ensure you’re putting your best qualifications forward during this process.
What Are Recommendation Letters For College?
Some institutions ask for recommendation letters in place of interviews. These letters allow the admissions officer to get a genuine feel for who you are and your accomplishments from an outside perspective. The ability to get to know you beyond your resume and application information allows for a deeper understanding of your motivations, capabilities, and if you are a right fit for their institution. This final bit of knowledge can set you apart from other qualified applicants.
There are several instances where a strong recommendation can set you apart from other students. If there is one space left and you and another student have equal qualifications, a strong letter of recommendation can help show why you're a stronger candidate. If your grades aren’t quite where they should be before admittance to college, letters of recommendation allow you to showcase your progress and achievements beyond your grades. The number of recommendation letters needed before the application deadline varies by institution. However, most institutions typically ask for two or three letters.
As you get ready to ask for letters of recommendation, consider what you’d like to showcase and who may be able to speak best to a leadership role, your academic goals, career goals, and your integrity.
Who Should You Ask For Recommendation Letters?
Ideally, the admissions office will ask for letters from a core academic teacher or teachers (English, Math, or Science). Some schools may accept letters of recommendation from academic advisors, school counselors, or anyone connected to your academic experiences. However, always check each school's requirements because they often differ by institution.
Before deciding who to ask, think about your relationships with teachers and staff. Which ones know you best and can speak to your strengths?
A teacher (ideally junior year teachers) can speak to your academic strengths and personal strengths. If an institution requires more than one letter of recommendation, you should prioritize someone who knows you well, taught you recently (junior year teachers) and someone who leads a core subject.
High School Counselor
A school counselor is another great option because they can be a positive reference who speaks to your strengths and aspirations. Diversity is important, especially with institutions that ask for multiple letters of recommendation. If you are strong in English and only provide English teacher recommendations, your recommendations will not demonstrate all your key skills and who you are outside of English class.
What if I Don’t Know Any of my Teachers?
In an ideal world, you will have cultivated an authentic relationship with your teacher before a formal recommendation request. However, if you find yourself in a bind and you don't have a potential person to ask, it's not too late to build a positive relationship with a few teachers. Make a point to stop by and see them during office hours or after class or wherever they are available. It's important that teachers know you just as you get to know them.
If you've identified potential references and feel you have a strong connection but aren't sure they’re ready to give a recommendation, consider talking with them about your college application and recommendation in person. College applications can be a great conversation starter!
When Should You Ask for Recommendation Letters?
Early. Don't wait until the last minute to ask teachers to write a letter of recommendation. Give your teachers ample time to write the letter. Remember, you’re asking your teacher to do something for you; they do not have to. It can take a teacher's several hours to produce a professional recommendation, so it's common courtesy to give them time to complete it.
You also may not be the only student requesting a letter from your teacher. It’s important to remember all of these factors when considering the timing of requesting a letter of recommendation. Take a look at your application to see the actual deadline for letters of recommendation. Ideally, you should ask months in advance. If that's not a possibility, give them at a minumum two to three weeks to write the letter.
Timing is also important when asking for a letter of recommendation. Avoid the beginning of class when your teacher is preparing for class or other busy times during the day. If possible, ask to schedule a time to talk to your teacher so they have advance notice and not caught off guard. If you’re unable to schedule a time, the end of the day can be an excellent time to approach your teacher.
How To Ask For Reference Letters
The best way to ask for a recommendation letter is to request in person. Doing so allows your teacher to talk with you about any questions and prepare themselves to write a detailed letter that showcases your strengths in an academic setting.
You will also want to come prepared with some new information to help your teacher write a strong letter. You should be ready with:
- A list of colleges you're applying to
- The specific program and subject matter you look forward to studying.
- A current professional resume for yourself or a brief “brag sheet” with accomplishments.
- If appropriate, a copy of your admissions essay
- An application calendar with program deadlines
Once you have gone over all the relevant information with your teacher or counselor, ask them if they have any questions about the letter of recommendation or application guidelines. Finally THANK your teacher for agreeing to write a letter for you.
After you ask in person, follow up with all the digital information for the recommendation via email. Express your gratitude once more.
Here’s a sample of what your follow up email could look like:
Sample Letter of Recommendation Request Email Template
Good Evening Mrs. Smith,
First, I wanted to thank you again for agreeing to provide me with a letter of recommendation for college. I’m looking forward to attending x university and believe the pre-veterinarian program will help me accomplish my goal of becoming a veterinarian. As a reminder, the deadline for letters of recommendation to be submitted is January 20th. I just entered your information into the application portal, and you should receive a prompt to submit your letter shortly. I’m attaching a copy of my resume and transcript for your reference as well.
If you have any questions, please let me know. I’d be happy to go over any of the details with you.
Final Tips on Asking for Letters of Recommendation
Ask in person and before you add your teacher to the application portal. Receiving a recommendation request from a system without asking can be very offputting. It will not encourage your teacher to help you put your best foot forward with an outstanding letter. If possible, ask a few months in advance. When you ask early, it shows you are prepared and allows the teacher to write your letter on their timeline.
Ask in Person
Connecting face to face gives a lot of credit to your request and helps you click on a personal level with the teacher you are asking. The more you can connect with the teacher allows them to write a letter that speaks to who you are as a person and will be more genuine.
Ask your Teacher about their Process
Many teachers get multiple requests for letters of recommendation each year, and they may have their process for writing letters. Ask if they have a preferred method you can follow.
In addition to sending a follow-up email, check in with your teacher periodically while you are waiting for them to complete your letter. By following up, you open the door for them to ask additional questions to help them along.