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How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation for College

Student Life

November 28, 2023

Juniors, college applications are right around the corner. One critical part of your application is your letters of recommendation from your teachers. In order to get the best recommendation letter you can, you have to present yourself professionally. Below are steps on how to ask your teachers for a letter of recommendation.

a group of people in a room with a projector screen

Photo by Kenny Eliason from Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/a-group-of-people-in-a-room-with-a-projector-screen-1-aA2Fadydc

Step 1: Pick the right teachers

Picking the right teachers is crucial in getting a great letter of recommendation. You don't want to ask someone who doesn't know you that well, or someone who only taught you freshman year. So, you want to pick a teacher who meets the following criteria.

  1. Knows you well

This is important because you want a teacher who can attest to your best qualities and work ethic, which works best when they actually know you as a person. Also, they can give more details because they know you better than others.

2. Teaches a core subject

Having a core subject teacher is essential because they have seen you in an academic environment. Yes, art and music classes might technically be academic environments, but core subject teachers are with you all year and have seen your performance on assessments and your participation in class. This will show that you are a good student academically, which is what most colleges want to see.

3. Taught you recently (or multiple times).

Finally, having teachers who teach upper-level classes write your application is essential because their class was recent. Throughout high school, you and your personality change a ton, so having someone recent will reflect who you actually are, rather than who you were as a freshman (I think everyone gets embarrassed when thinking about who they were as a freshman). Also, if you weren't as motivated as an underclassman, and started overachieving in your junior year, you want teachers who will attest to the overachieving upperclassman.

Step 2: Talk to your teachers

By now, you have selected the teachers that you want to write your letter of recommendation. Make sure that you talk to them well before the due date (a week or two probably isn't enough time). Either go up to them in their office during a break, or send them an email saying that you would like to meet with them in person.

This meeting doesn't have to be long; it could be around five minutes. Asking for letters of recommendation in person is important because it shows the teacher that you respect them and their time. Trust me, asking over email is a bad move.

black laptop computer

Photo by Stephen Phillips from Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/black-laptop-computer-3Mhgvrk4tjM

Step 3: Send a follow-up email

Sending a follow-up email will not only make you responsible, but it is documented proof of your agreement. This email should include details about the letter of recommendation, such as when it is due, how long it needs to be, and who to send the final draft to. Also, include your intended major, and why these schools will benefit this intended major.

You could even include extra information in the email. For example, you could talk about other activities that you are doing that are related to the subject, and how they encourage you to learn more about the subject. Above all, make sure that you thank them!

Step 4: Check-In Closer to the Due Date

Checking in is important because it reminds the teacher of the due date, and makes you look like you are on top of things. A week or two before the letter of recommendation is due, check in with the teacher. This could be through email, which includes a reminder of the due date, and a refresher of what is needed in the letter. As previously mentioned, remember to thank the teacher for their hard work on your letter.

Step 5: Thank Your Teachers

Your teachers put their time and effort into writing a fantastic recommendation letter for you, so you need to thank them. After you submit your application, you could either find them during free time or email them to schedule a time to meet.

Make sure you thank them in person: these teachers truly helped your application! Seeing them in person will not only show your appreciation for writing your recommendation letter, but also will ensure that they know they had an impact in your high school experience, whether it was learning in the classroom or connecting on a personal level.

Remember these steps, especially asking early. It's about the time of year when juniors start thinking about potential majors and career paths, and the right colleges to help with these goals. If you ask early and follow this guide, you are already a step ahead in your college applications. Good luck!

Ava Jankowski
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Writer since Aug, 2023 · 14 published articles

Ava Jankowski is a junior at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, PA. She enjoys writing, traveling, shopping, mock trial, and playing tennis. She is excited for any learning opportunities possible. Ava will attend The School of the New York Times Summer Academy this July.