The first impressions always count, and when a college admissions team is reviewing your application, they’re faced with the difficult task of deciding if you’re a good fit for the university by reading about you. One way to make sure that you make the best possible impression on this staff is to provide high-quality letters of recommendation.
A teacher or mentor with whom you have shared positive experiences typically provides a letter of recommendation. In this letter, they give to explain their relationship with you, why they think you’re a great student and why they believe you’re a great candidate for higher education.
While some teachers may offer to write you a letter of recommendation without you having to ask, that’s not super common. As such, this article serves as your guide for how to ask for a letter of recommendation.
Don’t Just Ask Any Teacher
The teacher or teachers that you ask to write you a letter of recommendation shouldn’t just be a teacher you had in the ninth grade. They should be a teacher that you really connected with through having multiple classes that they taught or through a club they oversaw.
Asking a teacher that you share a connection with is essential for receiving a solid letter of recommendation. After all, if a teacher doesn’t have a real relationship with you, they won’t have much to write about in your letter. Moreover, because writing you a letter of recommendation is a courtesy, they will likely only want to do so for a student they genuinely like and have good experiences with.
They’re understandably not going to want to write about a student who continuously disrupted their class. Review all the teachers you’ve had and think about who you really connected with. Those are the teachers you should ask to write a letter of recommendation for you.
You need to remember that while it might feel like you’re the only student who will ask a teacher to write you a letter of recommendation, you’re not.
If it’s a popular teacher, the chances that they’ve already been asked to write letters of recommendation for your peers is pretty high. That’s why it’s so important to start this process early. Even if the teacher really likes you, they may have to say no to your request if you simply wait too long to ask them.
A good general rule of thumb to follow is to identify the teachers that you’ll want to ask to write a letter of recommendation for you by the end of your junior year. It also doesn’t hurt to approach these teachers before summer vacation starts to ask them. This way, if they want, they can take the whole summer to write you a letter of recommendation.
The worst that they can say is to come to ask them again once your senior year starts. At the very latest, you’ll want to ask these teachers for their letters about two months before your application’s deadline. They’ll have plenty of time to draft a nice letter for you in that timeframe, and you’ll most likely beat out the last-minute rush of requests for letters.
Ask for a Letter, Don’t Demand One
It’s not a requirement for any teacher to write a student a letter of recommendation. You need to remember this when you approach your selected teachers to ask them. If they agree to write you a letter of recommendation, they are doing so because they truly believe in you. They are doing you a favor, so you need to keep that in mind when you’re going to ask them.
Whenever possible, avoid asking for your letter of recommendation electronically. It will mean much more to your teacher if you approach them in person to visit.
This is especially true if the teacher you’ve chosen hasn’t seen you in a bit (think: summer vacation). Stop by their classroom or their office to catch up and chat. Then, kindly and politely ask if they’d have the time or availability to potentially write you a letter of recommendation.
Explain how much you respect them as a teacher and how much them writing a recommendation for you would mean. It will help to talk about the schools you’re applying to and your career aspirations. Hearing your plans and your respect for them will warm their heart and make it hard for them to say no.
If you have to ask electronically for a letter of recommendation, do so formally and respectfully. It should not be a short one-sentence email. You should include the same things you would say in person in the body of your email or over the phone. Your teacher will appreciate your politeness.
Explain Any Relevant Information or Details
Set your teacher up for success by giving them all the necessary information that may be required by a university for your letter of recommendation. Some universities require that teachers give their professional background, while others require that they explain your GPA, class rank or extracurricular activities.
If your teacher doesn’t know that they have to include certain things, they most likely won’t. If that’s the case, then both of your time and thought has been wasted. Give them a hard copy of the information that is to be included in the letter.
Another relevant detail that you absolutely must disclose to your teacher is the date by which you need the letter returned to you. Do not forget to tell them this.
Think about how stressed out you would be if you found out that you needed to turn in a writing assignment in 48 hours because your teacher forgot to tell you when it was due. Remember, the teacher is using his or her free time to write you a recommendation, so don’t make it any harder for them than it needs to be.
Don’t Forget to Say Thank You
After you receive your completed letter of recommendation, you need to remember to do this one very important step: express your gratitude. While you can send a heartfelt thank you email to your teacher, it will be more impactful if you give them a handwritten card or gift to thank them for doing you such a big favor. Stop by their classroom or office to deliver it in person. They will truly appreciate it.