Requesting a Letter of Recommendation
The letter of recommendation is an important part of your college application—but it can be a little intimidating. It’s normal to feel anxious when asking your teachers for help. So we’ve put together some tips for how to go about requesting a letter of recommendation that will wow the admissions committee and represent you in the best possible light.
- How should I choose what teachers to ask? Of course, you want to ask someone who will have glowing praise for you. However, not all LORs are created equal. While it’s great to have a family friend or soccer coach’s endorsement, letters are weighted more heavily by admissions when they come from a core subject instructor—math, science, English, computer science, etc. Perhaps you will want to choose an instructor in a subject that relates to your future major. Another good choice would be to choose a teacher who watched you improve, not necessarily one where you had a stellar academic performance. For example, maybe you didn’t get a high A in Calculus but you brought your grade up from a C- to B+ over the course of a semester. Your teacher will be able to share how your hard work paid off. This kind of effort will impress those reading the letter, since that kind of work ethic shows you will be a successful college student.
- How do I actually ask? If you feel comfortable asking in person, this is the best way to go. Teachers are asked to write letters of recommendation every year, so they will not be surprised or inconvenienced by the request. While you may give them a small token of thanks—an easy one might be a gift card in a small amount to their favorite coffee shop—it’s not necessary. In fact, in most cases, teachers are flattered to be asked and will enjoy writing about you. If you can’t make it in person, you can also request the letter in an email to your teacher.
- I have no control over what they say in the letter, right? Not true! In fact, it is a great idea to provide a starting point when you request your teacher to write a letter of recommendation. In addition to giving them some material so they don’t have to start from scratch, you can explain the traits you are looking to emphasize in your application. For example, maybe you want to focus on service and community engagement in your essays; let them know this is a theme you’ll be writing about so they can weave it into the letter. You could also provide a short list of your activities or standout achievements, in case they want to write about your strengths outside the classroom.
- Anything else I need to know? Request your letter EARLY. The last thing you want is to request your teacher’s time and energy, only to put them on a one- or two-week deadline. If you read our past post about organizing applications, you know the importance of working backwards from important deadlines. If possible, give your teacher at least a month from the priority or scholarship deadline. Equally important is doing as much preparation as possible to help your teacher submit the letter. Generally, in the college admissions process, students are not allowed to send (or in many cases, even read) their letter of recommendation themselves. Therefore, you need to make sure your teacher understands how to submit the letter to admissions offices. Give them the complete list of schools and provide the mailing or login information they need. The Common Application has its own recommender login, so you’ll only need to send your teacher a link to invite them to complete the application. However, every school is different, so as always—be sure to read carefully!
While it is a critical part of a strong application, the letter of recommendation does not need to cause stress and anxiety. It’s a great way to showcase your amazing achievements from the perspective of someone who watched you learn and grow firsthand. Above all, know that teachers are happy to help, and they want to make a difference in your future!
Did you know that the Academy can also write letters of recommendation? If you attended the Congress, just request your LOR at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-307-7425. We will be honored to help you on your journey in higher education.