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How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Whether you’re applying for college, a scholarship, or a job, knowing how to ask for a letter of recommendation is a crucial skill for you to have. It can also be a very scary experience! But let’s face it, you’re an amazing student and your teachers are probably thrilled to write about how awesome you are. Let’s talk about how to ask for a letter of recommendation, who to ask, and how to make sure your request goes as smoothly as possible.

Before You Ask, Here’s What You Need to Know

Let’s take a moment to understand what a letter of recommendation actually is.

When you submit a college application, mostly admissions committees have a lot of data to work with; like your transcripts and standardized test scores. And while this information is helpful, it doesn’t always tell the committee members enough about who you are and what you’re like as a person. College essays can help shed some light on your story, but having someone advocate for you, who knows you as a student, helps the admissions committee get a better idea of who you are and if you fit their image of an ideal student.

A letter of recommendation lets your teachers serve as that advocate by confirming your academic growth and potential, character traits, and significant achievements. Because of their importance, you should pick a teacher or counselor who knows you well and who you have a good relationship with. The rumor mill at school can also help you find out which of the teachers you know writes the strongest recommendation letters. It can also help if the teacher you’re asking is an alumnus of the school you’re applying to.

Make sure you know what each college expects in terms of quantity. Many schools ask for one recommendation letter from a teacher; some require two. Other schools ask your counselor to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.

Be sure to ask for your letters early on! Teachers and counselors are flooded with these requests and asking early takes stress off all of you. I suggest asking for letters at the end of your junior year, because you’re fresh in the minds of your teachers and they’ve had an entire year to watch you develop and grow as a student.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

So now that you’ve picked your teacher and are ready to ask them to write a recommendation letter; let’s talk about how you should approach them.

Ask in Person.

This shows that you’re serious about getting his or her opinion. Teachers are at liberty to say no as they are doing you a favor. Figure out when they have a free period or schedule a time to meet with them. Asking your counselor in person also demonstrates character and dedication to the college application process.

Prepare Your Speech.

Knowing what you’re going to say before you approach them is a great way to calm your nerves. A little complimenting to start off goes a long way. Try working with something like this:

I really enjoyed having you as a teacher this year and I have learned so much from you. I’m wondering if you would feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for me for my college application.This gives your teacher the opportunity to say if they don’t think they can write a strong letter for you instead of turning in a generic or insincere letter for you. You can adjust this speech when approaching your counselor since you would obviously not have had them in class.

Bring Your Paperwork.

If your teacher or counselor says yes, be sure to present them with a write up the deadlines, how they submit your letter of recommendation, and the schools you’re asking them to write to including who to address the letter to. I also encourage you to attach your Brag Sheet to this information so they can keep everything organized.

Your Brag Sheet should include things like your academic accomplishments, extracurricular activities, and goals. If you experienced a hardship or significant challenge like the loss of a home or a sibling that inspired any of these, be sure to include that as well. Your teachers and counselors have a lot of students to remember and sometimes details can get lost; therefore your Brag Sheet helps them personalize your letter.

You Asked. Now What?

Don’t think that just because they said yes and you handed over your information that your job is done! There are just a couple more steps for you to follow.

Follow Up Without Being a Pest.

Now that you have things lined up for you letters of recommendation, be sure to follow up periodically to see if any additional information is needed. Do not do this daily or even weekly, because you will probably end up annoying your teacher and counselor more than anything else. I would recommend maybe once a month, but definitely a week or two before your deadline if you don't ask any other time.

Thank Them.

I know this probably sounds obvious, but thanking them after they’ve said yes is a given. Thank them again when they’ve said your letter has been submitted and re-iterate how grateful you are that they took the time to write you a letter of recommendation. If you really want to go the extra mile, I suggest sending a thank you card and some flowers or balloons.

And there you have it! Now you know how to ask for a letter of recommendation and what steps you can take to make this process as easy as possible for you and the people writing the letters for you. Never underestimate the power of asking in person and saying thank you. Letters of recommendation are an important part of the college application process and the people writing these letters for you deserve your gratitude.

What’s the best letter of recommendation someone wrote for you? Tell us about it in the comments below!