The Biz by Bentley University

A key part of your college application is letters of recommendation from trusted individuals who can speak to your character, work ethic and intangibles. It could be a real difference maker when it comes time for a school to make their decision. We spoke with our admission counselors to find their advice for writing a winning letter of recommendation, and came up with this list of our best tips.

(Important note: Each college has different requirements, so the first step is to find out what kind of recommendations your colleges of interest require. Do your homework!)

When to ask
The best time to ask for recommendations is toward the end of junior year. Many teachers like to work on the letters over the summer when they have more time. Once the school year starts, they are pretty busy, just like you!

Make your requests at least a month in advance to give your recommenders time to reflect about you, your abilities and contributions. If you wait too long, they may not have time to write a letter.

Who to ask
Many colleges require you to submit recommendations from your guidance counselor and teacher.

Consider asking a current or recent teacher, rather than one you had in ninth grade. You’ve changed and developed a great deal during high school, so information from freshman year might not be as relevant.

Junior-year teachers are perfect, since waiting until senior year may cause a time crunch and senior teachers may not know you as well. Remember, a connection with a teacher in a challenging course is a more interesting story than from a class you aced but barely knew the instructor.

Some schools also allow a coach, adviser or other significant adult in your life to write a letter. (Not all schools are open to this, so check the requirements at the colleges where you’re applying.) If you’ve participated in an activity or volunteer work over several years with the same coaches/advisers, and have developed good relationships, this can be a good choice. Just make sure they’re in addition to high-quality letters from guidance counselors and teachers.

It goes without saying that you should only include people who will have positive things to say about you. A bad or lackluster letter could affect your chances of getting into your dream college.

How to ask
Asking for a letter in person shows respect — don’t rely on an email or text.

Give the person some information about yourself academically, so they don’t have to try to remember everything about you. List out the high points of your performance in a class for a teacher, or a share a list of your accomplishments with a club moderator.

Provide the recommendation forms from the college (although the letter does not have to go on the forms) or send them the link to the Common Application Recommender System so they can submit the letters virtually.

What to do afterward
Finally, be sure to send a thank-you note to the recommender once the letter is completed and mailed. Writing letters of recommendation isn’t easy. Send the person a note or even a small gift to let them know how much it meant to you.