How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
Last updated September 6, 2023
As you prepare to complete and submit college or scholarship applications, you may notice that both might require you to submit 1-2 letters of recommendation. But what are letters of recommendation and what purpose do they serve?
A letter of recommendation is a formal document written on your behalf to schools or scholarships by someone who can speak about your strengths, skills, and experiences. The purpose of a letter of recommendation is to show to colleges and scholarships that you are a hardworking, passionate, and dedicated person. A letter of recommendation should be written by an influential adult in your life, such as an educator, boss or supervisor, or sports coach. Strong letters of recommendation can be a powerful supplement to your applications because they can give reviewers a complete picture of you– one that your test scores or GPA may not be able to.
Here’s what you need to know about asking for and securing letters of recommendation!
Consider who can write you a strong letter of recommendation
While different colleges and scholarships may have different letter of recommendation requirements (some may ask for one and others may ask for multiple), it’s usually a good idea to secure at least two recommenders willing to write a letter as soon as you can to have on hand when completing your applications.
Your letters of recommendation, just like your essays and extracurricular experiences, are an opportunity to showcase your full personality and interests outside of the classroom so that reviewers understand the big picture of who you are and what makes you unique. Take some time to consider who can be good recommenders based on your passions, interests, and experiences. Ideally, you will want to have a close or positive relationship with the people writing your letters of recommendation. Additionally, it’s usually a good idea to have recommenders that highlight important skills and strengths you have that accurately reflect your passions.
For example, if your community service experience is an important part of your story, you may consider asking your supervisor at the organization you volunteered at for a letter of recommendation. They could then accurately and specifically write about your passion for service, commitment to your community, and ability to juggle school with extracurriculars. Regardless of your experience, these are all skills that stand out on college and scholarship applications!
We also advise you to secure recommendations that highlight different skills and strengths you have. For example, your supervisor at your retail job can speak to your great communication skills, kindness, and work ethic, while your math teacher can highlight your analytical problem solving skills and commitment to your academics. Consider who can help you tell the complete story of who you are!
Ask for your letter of recommendation early
It’s very important to ask for your letters of recommendation with plenty of time– at least one month in advance. However, the sooner you ask, the better!While it’s appropriate to ask for a letter of recommendation over email, it’s always preferable to do it in person.
If someone declines your request, try not to take it personally! Application season is very busy – especially for educators– and someone just may not have enough time to thoughtfully write you a letter. Always thank the people you ask, regardless of their response, for their time and consideration.
Provide your recommender with a brag sheet
To make the writing process smoother for your recommender, provide them with a brag sheet. A brag sheet is similar to a resume or personal statement, and lists your accomplishments, experiences, leadership skills, extracurricular activities, and any employment or volunteer work you’ve done during high school.
Even if you have a close relationship with your recommender, your brag sheet can point out different aspects of your interests and experiences that they may not have been aware of before. This can help them write a well-rounded, thoughtful letter!
Provide as much information as possible
Make sure your recommender has all the essential information about the college or scholarship you’re applying to, including submission details and requirements, deadlines, and more. Some applications will require recommenders to create accounts on their website and upload their letters there. Others may accept them via email. Others will allow you to submit them on their behalf. Be sure you have all the information in advance and handy for your recommender before they start writing.
Send a thank you note
Always send a thank you note– either hand-written or via email– to your recommenders! They put in time and effort to help you take an important big step into the future, so be sure to take a moment to express your gratitude. Be sure to also keep your recommender in the loop about the outcome of your applications. They care about your success!
Have any questions about securing a letter of recommendation? Text #College to 33-55-77 to chat with one of our advisors. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!