How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Learn what you’ll need to provide to get the best recommendation letters and when to ask for them.

Shawna Newman

February 29, 2024

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
Ask someone who is honored to vouch for you!
College applications require many documents that you're responsible for providing. Recommendation letters are part of the college application process that requires the work and input of others. Many colleges require one to three letters of recommendation to complete the college application.

Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

Recommendation letters provide a more intimate look at you, the person applying to college. The admissions team uses recommendation letters to hear what others have to say about you. Their goal is to ensure you have what it takes to be a standout student.

Decide who you’d like to ask for a recommendation.

Recommendation letters can come from people such as coaches, pastors, employers, counselors, mentors, teachers, or family friends. Do any of these individuals stand out to you as someone who knows your character well and has a good relationship with you?
Pick someone who has had recent interactions with you and can attest to your character. You'll want to have backups, too. Start by making a list of 10 people you could ask. Don't ask family members to write your letters; their comments won't be as credible to an admissions counselor. This includes aunts, uncles, and more distant relatives. Next, narrow down your final list to four or five people to ask to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.

Prepare your brag sheet.

Create a brag sheet they can use to write a strong letter. Customize it so it highlights your accomplishments, leadership skills, and top personal qualities. Your brags should showcase things like: • Leadership Positions • Awards Won • Personal Development Successes • Academic Achievements
A recommender might ask you to write a draft of the letter or provide some points on which you’d like them to write.

Ask for your letter of recommendation in person.

So, what’s the right way, and how do you politely ask for a letter of recommendation? While it might seem scary, it’s always a good idea to ask for a favor like this in person. A person-to-person request shows maturity and goodwill. Share what college you’re applying for and why you’re asking this person to recommend you. Is it okay to ask for a letter of recommendation by email? In most cases, asking for a letter of recommendation via email is a no-no. There are some instances (such as location) where you cannot personally make the request. In situations like this, it’s okay to send an email with your request.

Send a request for your letter of recommendation.

Once you get your yeses, follow up by sending a formal request. This gives them something to refer to, or a task within their email to take care of. Your formal request should provide them with the below information: • Deadline information. Include the date you’ll need to have their recommendation letter, so they can plan accordingly. • Your full name, address, email and phone number. • Two copies of any forms they need to fill out (for a rough draft and a final draft). • The name and address of the college or university. If hard copies are required, provide a stamped addressed envelope for their convenience. • Information about the school (a brochure or viewbook). • A copy of your brag sheet and your completed college application and essay. Let them know they can contact you if they have any questions to wrap up your request.

Follow up before the due date.

Most people like a friendly reminder. Your senior year is a busy time for you, it’s also a busy time for teachers and counselors, too. Follow up a week or two before the deadline you provided your recommenders. Approach your follow-up in a here-to-help fashion. For instance, you may say something like “Hi, [recommender name]. I was just checking in to see how the recommendation letter is going. I’m to send it to the college by [due date]. Please let me know if there is anything I can do or provide to help you out.”

Thank them for the recommendation letter.

Remember, your recommenders are doing you a huge favor. They agreed to set aside time for your benefit. Shake their hand and say thank you when you get your letter. Follow up with a handwritten thank you note to show your appreciation.

Getting the Best Possible Letter of Recommendation

A good letter gives specific information about your strengths and weaknesses. The best letters provide a look at who the student is and discuss why they would be a great fit for that school.

Ask for the recommendation letter early.

How far in advance should you ask for a letter of recommendation? Ensure your recommenders have plenty of time to write thoughtful and articulate letters. It doesn’t hurt to ask them at the end of your junior year of high school. This early ask gives them the summer break to either write the letter or time to think about what they’d like to write. If you’re considering early admission, it’s important to get requests in sooner, rather than later. Seniors should begin requesting letters in August. Don’t ask the first day of school; give your teachers and counselors time to settle into the year as well. Asking a couple of weeks into the start of your school year should give them ample time.

If you sense hesitation, ask someone else.

If you ask for a letter of recommendation and get a lackluster response, it may be best to move on to someone else. Ask someone who is honored to vouch for you; they'll provide the positive and detailed feedback you want in your letter. Someone may not want to write a recommendation letter for many reasons. They could be too busy or simply not comfortable writing your recommendation letter. Stay in contact with your references. They could also write you a reference letter when applying for a job in the future!

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