Requesting a Letter of Recommendation
It’s time to apply for college admission and scholarships and you need recommendation letters. Some things that you need to know to get the most effective recommendations possible…
- Select the best recommender. Make sure that you ask people who know you well enough to supply a thorough (and positive) recommendation. If you have only known a teacher for a couple of months or haven’t had a conversation since you were in class several months ago, chances are that s/he won’t know you well enough to give a complete picture of your abilities.
- Balance your recommendations. Most schools/scholarships require at least two but usually three letters of recommendation. It’s a good idea to have at least one of these be from someone who has some knowledge of your activities outside of class. An activity sponsor, coach, supervisor, etc., can all provide insight into your strengths beyond academics. *NOTE: Programs differ. Some will be very specific about who your recommenders should be. Do not deviate from their requirements!
- PLAN AHEAD. I can write an “adequate” letter quickly, IF the planets all align and I’m not slammed during lunch. But do you really want a letter that is only adequate? The more time I have, the better the letter will be. Promise. Ask me well ahead of time, even if you don’t have all your information together for me. I can at least begin to think about what I would like to include in a letter for you. Ideally, you’ll give me at least two weeks from the time you give me your information. BTW—don’t give me a deadline that is the same day as you need to submit the letter. Life happens and if you’re out sick, etc., that’s not good! Give yourself a little cushion!
- Ask. I’ve gotten requests from Common App to submit recommendations from students who have never approached me about giving them a recommendation. That’s not nice. Don’t be that kid. Stop by and see me. In person. I’ll ask you some questions and walk you through you my recommendation process. Also, if I’m truly swamped or feel that others would be a better fit for you, I can steer you in the proper direction.
- Ask your recommender what information they would like you to supply. Here are the things I absolutely guarantee that I will ask you to supply (I prefer to have this information electronically, if possible; others would rather have hard copies. Ask your recommender how they want your info.):
- Your personal profile and resume. (Your English teacher will probably assign the profile to you at the beginning of your senior year; if you need the letter before that time, visit with your nearest friendly senior and ask them what this looks like.)
- List of pre-AP and AP classes you’ve taken. All of them.
- GPA (weighted and unweighted) and class rank. (you can just send me a copy of your transcript, if that’s easier.)
- Awards. If you’ve gotten them, brag. This is one time it’s ok! :)
- What do you do outside the classroom? List all your organizations and any offices that you hold/have held…and explain what you do/did in each. If you volunteer in a way that isn’t connected to the school, tell me about it—where, when, what do you do? Do you have a job? Tell me about it.
- What would you like me to stress in your letter? If I’m familiar with what you do in and out of class, do you want me to focus on one more than the other?
- Where are you applying for college, have you picked a major, what do you want to do when you grow up? (If you don’t know yet, that’s ok. I haven’t decided what I want to do when I grow up, either…)
- Is there anything else you think I should know about you? What are your strengths? Do you love art and that’s why you’ve chosen a particular major or career path? Are you really into theater and want to take part in the school’s drama program? Is there some obstacle that you’ve overcome that has shaped your choices? Help me make you stand out from the other applicants…
- When it’s done… When I have your letter ready, I will email it to you for review. Please check for accuracy of information as well as spelling, grammar, etc. It doesn’t hurt to have a second set of eyes on something like this! After we make any necessary changes and you give me the go-ahead, I will print and sign a few copies of the letter for you. I always save the original letter; if you need more copies or if you need a letter specifically geared for a particular scholarship, etc., that’s easily addressed. BTW—it’s totally ok to check in with me to see how the letter’s coming along, if I received your Common App request, etc.
I know this all seems like pretty picky stuff, but I promise that this process will result in the best recommendation letter that I can construct for you! Really! Good luck!