Asking for Letters of Recommendation: 10 Common Questions Answered

With the commencement of the college application season, it is important to receive recommendation letters to submit to colleges! Compiled below are 10 common questions that high schoolers have regarding letters of recommendation answered!

1. When do I need to ask for a letter of recommendation?

While there is no one specific time necessary to request a letter of recommendation from your teacher, it is best to ask by the spring of your junior year. This will give your teacher plenty of time to articulate their letter over the summer and have it ready for you by the fall. Additionally, your proactiveness and initiative will please your teacher and could lead to a more positive letter! However, early fall will still give you enough time to submit by even the early action/decision deadline.

2. Who do I ask for a recommendation letter?

Typically, you want to ask a letter of recommendation from teachers that teach the subject of study of which you are interested. For example, if you are interested in majoring in neuroscience, you may want to ask your chemistry or biology teacher. They will be able to add a different dimension to your application and suggest to the admission committee how you may contribute to that field at university. Typically, college admission committees like to view recommendation letters from core classes (think math, science, english, history, etc.). That pottery or orchestra teacher may not provide the most compelling recommendation letter, unless of course, you are going into the arts.

Make sure to get recommendation letters from legitimate sources!
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Additionally, some colleges may request an additional recommendation letter from a coach, a boss, or a mentor of sorts with whom you have worked.

3. How many recommendation letters do I need?

The number of recommendation letters needed depends on the colleges and scholarships to which you are applying. Traditionally, the common application requires a recommendation letter from a counselor, two core curriculum teachers, and optional letters of recommendation from a miscellaneous person, such as a club supervisor, coach, youth pastor, etc.

4. What do I say to my teacher?

It is preferable to ask for a recommendation letter in person, but given the current state of the world during this pandemic, an email may have to suffice. You should be both formal but also direct with your request, stating the reasons as to why you need a recommendation letter.

5. What do I need to bring?

Make sure to comply with your teacher’s desires for requesting a letter of recommendation, but typically, one needs to provide a resume, occasionally a brag sheet, and a letter that explains your intent of the letter of recommendation. This letter should be addressed to your teacher and the school address and it should be printed as well. This is a formal statement of what schools or scholarships you are applying and what you are looking to study. You may also include some anecdotes from that class that exhibit some positive traits, or mention some of your favorite memories or proudest moments that you have shared with that teacher. You should hand this document to your teacher when you ask them for a recommendation letter.

Do not bring gifts! It is your teacher’s job to provide letters of recommendation if they decided to do so. While it is important to thank them, bringing such gifts could be inappropriate.

A thank you message can go a long way when asking a teacher for a recommendation letter.
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6. What happens afterwards?

When you receive your recommendation letter, you should thank the teacher both in person and via a letter. You should also keep them updated on the status of your college applications and scholarships. They will likely be pleased to know that they helped you reach a pivotal point of your life!

7. What makes a good letter of recommendation?

A good recommendation letter is one where your teacher or coach can truly speak to the content of your character with specific details. They should be able to detail anecdotes or stories of you displaying positive attributes. If you do not know a teacher well enough, this kind of recommendation letter may be hard to achieve.

8. Will I be able to read my recommendation letter?

It depends upon the teacher, but most likely, you will not be able to read your recommendation letter. In fact, in the Common Application, there is a section you can fill out the FERPA which waives your rights to view the recommendation letters. This lets the admission officers reviewing your application know that these letters are fairly objective as your rights to see them have been waived. However, in some scenarios, teachers will give their letters of recommendation to their students to edit or view before submission. This isn’t something that you should expect. Click here to read a previous blog post on how to fill out the common application!

How do I know my recommendation letter will be good?
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9. How do I know the recommendation letter will be good?

Most likely, if you feel strongly enough to ask a teacher for a recommendation letter because of either your bond or your success in their class, they will likely write a nice letter of recommendation. However, upon asking, if there is any major hesitation or reluctance, I would recommend that you find another professor who could write a better review. Recommendation letters are one of the few features of the college application that allows the admission officers to get a glance into what you are truly like, both in and outside of the classroom. If your teacher will not be able to highlight both your compelling academic and personal traits, then perhaps another recommender will be better suited.

10. What if I need a recommendation letter in the future?

Keep an open dialogue with your teachers! Personally, I have had professors that have edited their letters of recommendation that were originally for college applications and I was able to use them for scholarship and job applications. You’ll need recommendation letters even after the college application season, so it is good practice to learn the proper etiquette for requesting them!

Did you have any similar questions that were answered? Let us know below!

— Elizabeth Prater, Marketing Intern

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Admit Guru aims to enable motivated high school students to reach their full potentials. Learn about college applications, resumes, high school planning, and more.

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