How to Request a College Recommendation Letter ✉️
If recommendation letters are optional for applying to your top colleges, you might think, why bother? But these personalized letters, which can be written by your teachers or your assigned counselor (often stated on your transcript), are often more important than you think. Unlike the other parts of your application—like your GPA, transcript, or test scores—these letters create a specific image of you as a person and likely candidate for acceptance. If it comes down to admission officers having to choose between you and another student, your rec letters might be the deciding factor. These letters can also help decide which students get offered scholarships or even get into honors programs!
This video provides a great overview of why these letters are so important
Getting Started 🏁
After you’ve made a list of colleges you’re applying to, the first step is finding out which schools on your list will accept a rec letter (even if it’s listed as optional, it’s always better to submit one!), and the deadlines for each school. Of course, this can also differ based on which application deadlines
you’re working towards (Early Decision, Early Action, etc.)
Note: Most teachers will write one letter that you can send to every school on your list, rather than tailored letters for each one!
Choosing the Right Teachers/Counselors 👩🏽🏫
Ideally, you want to choose a teacher who had you in class recently (generally, junior year is the most advisable), and who knows you well as a student.
You don’t have as much freedom to choose a specific counselor to write a rec letter for you, as your assigned counselor listed on your transcript is who will write the letter and send it straight to colleges. But your counselors also probably have way more students to write letters for than your teachers will. Hence, it is still essential to convey deadlines in a timely manner and maintain a good relationship with them!
But if you’re nearing the end of your junior year and you still haven’t gotten to know any of your teachers or counselors very well, it’s not too late to start. The easiest way to go about building a relationship with them is just to visit them outside of class. Remember, teachers are just people too and often really passionate about their subjects, clubs or sports they lead. It’s good practice to get to know your teachers before you need something from them and it would be a good idea to join one of the sports or clubs they facilitate.
If choosing multiple teachers to ask for rec letters or if a college wants to see you submit multiple rec letters, it’s also a good idea to pick teachers who teach contrasting subjects, in order to highlight specific strengths of yours to colleges!
Note: Make sure you also double-check whether any colleges on your list require/recommend that students submit rec letters from teachers in certain subjects. This could also be the case for applications to scholarships or selective honors programs!
Doing The Asking 🤓
First of all, make sure to actually ask your teachers if they can write you a letter before adding their name to your application! Doing this in-person is also the most preferable, and an email should be your last resort.
Ideally, you would ask your teachers at the end of your junior year or at the very start of your senior year. But things don’t always go as planned, so at the very least, give them 3-4 weeks before the submission deadline.
After you’ve asked your teacher, the next step is writing them a follow-up email to remind them about the letter, ideally the same day. Make sure you include your high school resume to help your teachers get a better idea of your accomplishments, and this will allow them to go into more specific detail while writing your letter. Also, add a list of colleges that require your teacher’s rec letter, along with the application deadlines for each of them. Make sure you thank them appropriately here too! Professionalism is key.
For a great email template to ask for letters of recommendation, check out this
Image Courtesy of Wikipedia
General Tips 🌟
At some point in your application process, you’ll be asked to waive your FERPA rights.
FERPA (The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) protects your right to view your educational records as a student, and waiving these on your application means that you give up your right to see what your teachers choose to write about you on the recommendation letter they submit for you. If you decide not to do this, colleges will assume that you’ve already read the letter your teacher wrote before they submitted it, and they might not trust it as an objective source of information. Waiving your FERPA rights is highly recommended!
If your colleges require you to mail them your letters of rec, then it’s up to you to handle the print submissions! Give your teacher a stamped envelope with the address of the admissions office included, and make sure you give them a generous window to get the letter posted.
When your teachers agree to write a rec letter for you, they’re doing so out of kindness! Make sure you plan something nice to give them in return, or, at the very least, write thank-you notes. ✍️
To learn more about letters of recommendation, check out this
article from Fiveable!