Let’s talk about Letters of Recommendation. What are they? Why might you need them? How do you ask for one? Working alongside high school students, we hear a lot of these questions and have put together a guide to help.
Why might you need a letter of recommendation?
While not every college requires high school applicants to submit letters of recommendation, many selective colleges do require 1 to 3 letters of recommendation. In addition to applying to selective colleges, high school students may have to submit letters of recommendation for scholarship applications or specialty programs, such as applying to a specific school within a university. Also, if a student is trying to transfer into a private school, many will request letters of recommendation.
Why are letters of recommendation important?
Within any kind of application, especially for college admissions, letters of recommendation personalize students’ application and help present students as well-rounded applicants. Given the changing nature of college admissions due to COVID-19 and the growing adoption of testing optional policies, more pressure is put on other parts of the application, such as GPA and letters of recommendation.
Whom do you usually have to ask for a letter of recommendation?
Most colleges that request these letters specify that the letter should come from a guidance counselor and/or high school teacher. For other programs or scholarship applications, you may have to request letters of recommendation from coaches, personal mentors, or activity supervisors.
Consider the following when deciding whom to ask:
Who has worked with you closely (and recently)?
Who knows you well?
Who would have good things to say about your work ethic, academic accomplishments, and/or extracurriculars?
When choosing whom you’d like to ask, remember it’s wise to request letters from teachers/counselors who’ve worked with you recently, so generally during your junior or senior year.
When should you ask?
On the early side. Consider when the applications are due. Also, consider that the individual you are asking may also have to write recommendation letters for several other students.
Give your recommender at the very least a month to complete the letter. Most experts suggest asking for letters of recommendation at the beginning of your senior year or even the end of your junior year.
How to ask for a letter of recommendation?
If possible, ask your teacher or guidance counselor in person. Given the transition to remote, or partially remote learning, you may not be able to ask in person. If this is the case, you should send your request via email.
Whether asking in person or via email, you should have the following:
a professional yet kind greeting (Make sure you spell the person’s name right.),
an indication of who you are (This is mainly important if you go to a big school in which teachers see a lot of faces everyday.),
a statement about the college/program to which you are applying,
a specific request for the letter of recommendation (Don’t forget why you are writing in the first place.),
the reason you are asking this person in particular (Adding this personal touch will make it more likely the person will say yes.),
the specific deadline by which the letter must be submitted,
a courteous closing and signature.
Example of Email Request--
Dear Mrs. Jones,
This is Thomas Wright from your fifth period AP Lang course. I am applying to the University of Delaware and University of Maryland for their journalism programs, and I would be honored and grateful if you’d write me a letter of recommendation for these applications.
Taking your English class was one of the key reasons that I decided to pursue journalism, and I believe you have a good sense of me as a student, writer, and person.
If you are able to write this recommendation letter, then it would need to be submitted by January 15, 2021, through the link sent by the Common Application. Do you think you’d be able to? If you don’t have time in your schedule, I completely understand.
Please let me know if you’d be willing to write this letter for me, and if so, I will send you my current resume and any other information you might need. Thank you for your time!
For additional tips on clear online communication, see our Email Etiquette blog post.
If they say yes…
Once a recommender has agreed to write the letter, you should send them additional information, including a resume, or detailed list of your activities and accomplishments, for their reference. Some high schools have student information sheets that recommenders can request students fill out to assist with the letter writing process.
Additionally, in the follow up, you should remind them of the deadlines and provide any specific instructions they need to follow.
If they say no…
Don’t take it personally. Usually, people say no for one of two reasons: either they have too much on their plate and are unable to commit to delivering you a letter in a timely fashion, or they don’t feel that they know you well enough to write the letter. Simply try again with another person.
Last but not least, don’t forget to say send your recommenders a thank you letter.