What are you passionate about? Have you faced a personal struggle that transformed you? Beyond your personal essay, a letter of recommendation serves an important role in the college application process. It provides admission counselors with a trusted glimpse into how your unique qualities — beyond academic performance — will contribute to their campus community and culture.
Putting effort into choosing who to ask and when to ask will help your application stand out, and also avoid a last-minute rush. Our admission counselors developed a list of tips to help you (and your recommender) ace the process.
Research deadlines and requirements. Each college is different, so the first step is to find out what kind of recommendations your colleges of interest require. Those that accept the Common Application allow the letter to be directly uploaded by the recommender, for example.
Start early. One mistake that applicants make is not giving enough time for a letter to be written and submitted to the Common Application or specific school. Be sure to start preparing at the end of your junior year; some teachers prefer to work on letters during the summer. A request should include at least a month of lead time.
Choose wisely. Many schools require one letter of recommendation from a guidance or school counselor and another from a teacher. (Some also ask for or allow additional letters as well.) When considering who to ask, make it someone who not only knows about your academic skills and achievements, but can also speak to your character: work ethic, leadership, adversities faced and perseverance, for example.
(Hint: Don’t necessarily choose a teacher from your easiest class; choose someone who knows you inside and outside of the classroom.)
Ask in person. Asking for a letter in person shows respect — don’t rely on an email or text. If there is a particular strength or perspective you hope a recommender can cover, express that. End the conversation by letting them know that you will follow up with an email to outline further details.
Email the logistics. After your in-person request, email logistics such as the deadline and a link to the Common Application Recommender System or a college’s recommendation form (if required). Also share a list specific to your relationship: Examples include high points of your performance in a class (academics and soft skills) for a teacher; or your accomplishments on an athletic team or in an extracurricular club for a coach or club moderator.
Confirm submission. Two weeks prior to the deadline, check the Common Application or school application to confirm that the letter was properly submitted. If not, a gentle reminder email is acceptable. Check again to be sure it was submitted.
(Hint: Don’t wait until the night before it is due!)
Say “Thank You.” Once the letter has been submitted, thank the recommender in person or by sending a handwritten note or email.
(Hint: Don’t ask to see a copy of the letter before or after it is submitted as it can be awkward.)
Remember that admission counselors want to get a holistic picture of applicants. Letters of recommendation from trusted individuals who can speak to your character, work ethic and intangibles could be a real difference maker when it comes time for a school to make their decision.