A Step By Step Guide To Requesting Letters Of Recommendation

Many universities and colleges request that you include one or several letters of recommendation along with your application.  The most common sources of these letters are your high school counselor and teachers.

Though there isn’t a set procedure to obtain letters, here are few guidelines that will make it much easier on both yourself and the person providing your letter of recommendation.

  • Start Early

Most of us start applying for college the beginning of our senior year but the process starts a bit before that.  By the end of your sophomore year till about the middle of your junior year, you should begin scoping out potential teachers that you might like to write your letters of recommendation.

Teachers in your sophomore year are an invaluable source simply because many people tend to flood their junior year teachers, forgetting that their sophomore year teachers are also an integral part of their schooling.  If you’re confident about which teachers you want to write your letters, let them know ahead of time.  Perhaps at the end of your sophomore year, tell your teacher how much you enjoyed their class and that you would really like a letter from them.  That way, they’ll keep you in mind come college application season.

For your junior year teachers, let them know about midway through the school year that you might be asking them for a letter.  Chances are, many of your fellow students will be asking them for letters as well and it’s always better to be early than falling into the rush of college crazed seniors.

  • Give Plenty of Time

It takes time to write good letter of recommendations, just like it takes time to write a good essay.  If you want your letters to be unique and personalized, give your teacher plenty of time.  You don’t want to be stuck with a generic letter that doesn’t help you stand out.  A good letter will distinguish you from others applying to the college and give the college motivation and desire to accept you to their school.  It should reflect on your accomplishments and achievements as a student.

If you can, give your teachers the summer holiday to write your letter.   That way, they’re not stressed out with other school issues like grading tests or inputting grades and can focus on your letter.  Giving them all the information they need by June will ensure them plenty of time to write.

  • Say Hi To Your Counselor

Many schools request that you attach a letter from your counselor because they have access to your transcripts and high school records.  If you went to a larger public school, you may only see your counselor once a year for class planning.  As a result, your counselor may not know you very well and might not have much to put in your letter.

Make a habit of dropping by your counselor’s office to say hi and update them on anything you’ve accomplished recently or any projects you’re currently working on.  Invite them to your school performances or community service drives so that they’re aware of what you’re doing other than academics.

  • Provide a profile

Because of the large volume of students that may be asking teachers and counselors for letters, it’s easy for them to forget details about you.  Because you want your letter to be personalized and tailored to you, provide some information for your teachers to use and remind them of your talents and achievements.  Some basic information you might want to include in your “profile” that you provide to them might be:

  • What class and year you took their class
  • What is an assignment you really enjoyed
  • What is an assignment you really excelled at
  • What college you’re applying for and what field of study you plan on going into
  • Your interests and extracurricular activities
  • A way of contacting you (for example: email) in case they have any other questions
  • Picking Who to Write Your Letters

One last thing to keep in mind while asking your teachers for letters of recommendation is who will write you a letter that will provide a compelling argument about why you should gain admission.

  • Pick teachers where you excelled in class.  They will most likely remember you if you participated in their classes and did well on their assignments.  Your presence in class should be memorable enough (in a good way) to at least spark a memory in your teacher’s mind.
  • Secondly, pick teachers that you have multiple years of class with.  For example, if you took a few years of language, that teacher might be a good resource because he/she has seen you grow and progress at a certain skill set for a few years.
  • Lastly, pick teachers that pertain to your potential major or field of study.  If you plan on going into sciences, choosing a biology or chemistry teacher would be more relevant than your English teacher.

Don’t forget to follow up after you’ve received your letter of recommendation with a thank you note and maybe a small gift – nothing extravagant, maybe some coffee or a small gift card.  Let them know about your progress on applying to schools and when you receive your acceptances, thank them again to let them know how much their contribution helped your path towards college!

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Clara Ma

Clara Ma

Clara is a third year student attending the University of California, Berkeley currently pursuing a double major in Political Science and Media Studies. Her school activities include being a captain on the Cal Dance Team, being a Campus Ambassador, as well as being part of THRIVE Dance Company. She enjoys living vicariously through others on the Internet, keeping up with pop culture on Tumblr, and watching a copious number of television shows (namely Sherlock and How I Met Your Mother).