One of the most important components of your college application is your letter of recommendation from your teachers. In this post, we’ll tell you why a letter of recommendation is so important, how to ask for a letter of recommendation, what should be included in your letter of recommendation for college, and answer other frequently asked questions about asking for a letter of recommendation.
Table of Contents
- What is a Letter of Recommendation?
- How To Ask For a Letter of Recommendation
- Examples of How to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation
- Next Steps
What is a Letter of Recommendation? Why Do Colleges Require Them?
A letter of recommendation is a personalized letter from one of your current or former teachers. It is given to the admissions boards of the colleges you’re applying to. A good letter of recommendation makes a strong case for why you’d be an excellent applicant.
Your personalized letters go a long way in creating a vivid picture of you as a student, person, and overall candidate, and can be integral to your acceptance into the college of your dreams. Unlike your GPA, transcript, or standardized test scores, your letter of recommendation provides a more in-depth, comprehensive picture of you and your character than any numbers can on their own.
If your grades or test scores aren’t as competitive as you’d like them to be, letters of recommendation can also go a long way in building a case for you as an intellect and learner in the classroom, and can highlight ways that you’ve grown and evolved.
Before you start asking for recommendation letters from professors, remember that planning and professionalism are required if you want to get a high-quality letter that will make your application shine.
So let’s take a look at the protocol for asking for a letter of recommendation in a way that is respectful to your teachers, and ultimately beneficial to you.
How To Ask For a Letter of Recommendation
When should I be asking for a letter of recommendation?
I suggest an absolute minimum of a month prior to your application due date, but the earlier you ask, the better. You can even ask your teachers at the end of your junior year if they’ll write one for you over the summer leading into your senior year, so they have plenty of time to complete your request.
Remember that teachers who teach seniors get a lot of requests for letters of recommendation. Not to mention, a really good, thorough letter of recommendation for college is time consuming to write. When teachers agree to write you a letter, they want to write elaborately and specifically about you, which takes lots of thought and care! Give them a fair heads up.
How should I ask for a letter of recommendation?
The absolute best way to ask a teacher for a letter of recommendation is face-to-face, in person. This ensures that your teacher actually receives your request, and that you have the time to discuss the specifics of due dates, your college choices, etc.
The best way to ask a teacher in person is to schedule an appointment with them or catch up with them during a free period so you have adequate time to discuss the request. Do not simply ask a teacher after class or in the hallway in passing, if possible.
The next best way to request a letter of recommendation is in writing, via email. In fact, even if you ask your teacher in person, it’s a good idea to also follow up with an email.
Depending on your high school and their college application software, you may also be required to invite or send a letter of recommendation request to your teachers that way. If you are unsure about the protocol for this, ask your teachers or guidance counselor.
What should I say (and not say) when asking for a letter of recommendation?
Whether you ask for a recommendation letter from professors in person or in writing, the gist of you what say should be something like this:
- “Mr./Ms./Mrs. _______, I am applying to _________ college for _______ program and I would be honored and appreciative if you’d write me a letter of recommendation for my college application. I’m asking you because I really enjoyed and learned a lot in your class and I think you have an excellent sense of me as a student and person.”
Your written request for a letter of recommendation for college should include all of the following important details:
- A respectful and formal opening.
- A statement about the college/program that you are applying to.
- A clear request for the letter of recommendation.
- The reason you are asking this teacher in particular.
- Any pertinent details about yourself or the class.
- The due date for the letter.
- A polite salutation and closing.
Remember, professionalism is key, and even if you’re comfortable with your teachers, you want to frame an email as if you’re addressing a potential employer.
Examples of How to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation
Here, let me give you some examples so that you can clearly see the difference between a weak and a strong request for a letter of recommendation.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation: Weak Example
A weak example of a letter of recommendation request may go something like this:
I am writing because I need a letter of recommendation for college. It needs to be done by January 1, so please submit it to me by then. Thanks!
Notice that many of the key details are left out and that the student sounds more as if he is demanding the letter than politely asking for one.
No matter what, avoid asking for a letter without explaining where you are applying or why you are asking this particular teacher. Moreover, never approach a teacher as if you’re already assuming they’ll write a letter for you.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation: Strong Example
Following is a strong example of an email request for a letter of recommendation:
Good afternoon, Mrs. Davis,
This is Brian Jones, from your 6th period Anatomy and Physiology course. I am applying to University of Chicago as a Biochemistry major, and I would be honored if you would write me a letter of recommendation for my application.
I have enjoyed your class immensely and it has been formative to my development as a serious student of the sciences. Since this is the second class I have taken with you, I feel like you are an excellent judge of my academic ability and personal character.
I would need the letter by December 31 as my application is due January 1; do you think this is possible? If so, I would be most appreciative. If you don’t have time in your schedule at this point, I completely understand.
Please let me know if this is something you’d be willing to do, and if so, I will send you my completed student information sheet as soon as possible. Thank you in advance.
Ask for a letter with humility and appreciation, and your teacher will likely write you a stellar letter of recommendation.
How to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation: Next Steps
If your teacher accepted your request for a letter of recommendation for college, that’s great news! Here’s what to do next.
What to Provide Your Teachers
Even if you are requesting a letter from a teacher who currently has you in a class and who knows you well, you’ll need to provide a bit more information about yourself and your goals so that they can discuss you as specifically as possible.
Some schools or teachers provide students with a standard student information form that you can fill out to provide your teachers with more details. Ask your teacher or guidance counselor if there is a form at your school that they prefer you use. If not, you can download and fill out this general student information form and submit it either in person or via email.
You should also provide your teacher with a copy of your resume, any firm deadlines, and very clear instructions for how you will need the letter submitted (for example, a hard copy versus an electronic submission).
How to Follow Up About Your Letter of Recommendation
There are a few points at which you should check in with any teacher who has agreed to write your letter of recommendation:
- Two weeks prior to the due date, reach out and thank your teacher in advance for completing the letter, due on X upcoming date. Ask if there is any other necessary information that they need.
- Within a week (maximum) of your teacher submitting a letter of recommendation for you, send a thank you email or hand deliver a thank you note, thanking your teacher for taking the time to write a letter for you.
- This isn’t a requirement, but teachers tend to really care about where you go to college. If you’re accepted into a school for which they wrote a letter, reach out and tell them the exciting news!
FAQs About Asking for a Letter of Recommendation
Which teacher or teachers should I ask?
Any academic teacher can write a letter for you, but I recommend getting a letter from a teacher who knows you well and can speak honestly and positively about your ability and growth as a student. A recent teacher is ideal, because you’re fresh in their mind, but you can actually ask a teacher that you’ve had at any point.
It’s also helpful to have a teacher write for you who can speak to your ability to excel in a particular field. For example, if you’re interested in becoming an English major, it’s nice to have a letter of recommendation from your English teacher.
You don’t have to have perfect grades in a class in order to get a great letter from the teacher, but as a general rule, avoid asking for letters from teachers whose classes you didn’t put your best foot forward in. If you habitually turned in homework late, for example, the teacher may be less inclined to write you a glowing review.
How many letters of recommendation do I need?
It depends on the school, but most colleges require at least one, and often two letters of recommendation. Sometimes conservatories, specialty schools, or highly competitive schools will ask for more, from several types of teachers.
For example, if you’re applying to be a dance major, you may need two letters of recommendation: one from an academic teacher and one from a dance teacher. Make sure you check each school’s individual requirements so you can plan accordingly.
What if a teacher says “no” when I ask for a letter of recommendation?
Most of the time, especially if you ask correctly, a teacher will say yes to writing you a letter of recommendation. In some cases, however, a teacher may decline the request. This typically happens for one of two reasons:
- A teacher is simply too busy and can’t get a high-quality letter completed for you on the necessary timeframe. Remember that your teachers are incredibly busy with teaching, grading, and prepping classes on top of writing letters of recommendation, and that they simply may not have the “bandwidth” to complete a letter at the time.
- A teacher may tell you that they don’t feel entirely comfortable writing a letter or recommendation for you, either because they don’t know you very well or because of your performance in their class.
In either case, respond kindly and move on to asking another teacher. Thank your teacher for their time and energy, and don’t take it overly personally. If they don’t agree to write one, someone else will!
How is a letter of recommendation submitted?
Most letters of recommendation are submitted electronically through colleges’ individual pages or through online application systems such as the Common Application.
Some schools still prefer receiving applications via mail. In this case, your teacher will give you a letter of recommendation in a sealed envelope that you are expected to submit without opening or reading.
Make sure to read each school’s unique guidelines on how they would like the letter submitted.
Can I see what my teacher writes about me?
As a rule of thumb, no. A recommendation letter from professors is considered a confidential conversation between your teachers and college admissions boards.
In some cases, teachers will also provide you a clean copy of the letter for you to read and keep.
Asking for a letter of recommendation for college can be really humbling, but if done well, it’s a rewarding experience that can make a big impact on your future. So above all, be respectful and gracious when asking for a letter of recommendation. It’s worth your while!
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About Nadyja Von Ebers
Nadyja von Ebers holds an MA in English from DePaul University and has been an English instructor at the high school and college levels for the last eleven years. She has extensive experience teaching preparation for various AP exams as well as the ACT, SAT, and GED. Nadyja loves helping students reach their maximum potential and thrives in both literal and virtual classrooms. When she's not teaching, she enjoys reading and writing for pleasure and loves spending time in or near the ocean.
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