Best Practices For Asking For Reference Letters From Educators

Recommendation letters can put an applicant over the top when it comes to college admissions, so follow our advice for getting the best references for your application!

Choose carefully.

You’ll likely only need one to three college recommendation letters (don’t send more than the university wants!) so choose who you will ask carefully.  You’ll probably want to ask your guidance counselor for one letter.  Pick one teacher who lead a course that relates to your future major – for instance, your chemistry instructor if you plan on entering a pre-med program, or your English teacher if you want to be a journalist.  For your third choice, choose a teacher who knows you outside of the classroom – maybe the faculty advisor for your foreign language club or the drama teacher who directed you in plays for the last few years.

Ask early.

Always, always ask early enough that your teachers can devote plenty of time to writing about you.  Your best course of action is to ask at the end of your junior year or at the beginning of senior year, but make sure you give them at least a few weeks notice.  The other benefit to asking early is that the instructors are less likely to be overwhelmed with recommendation letter requests, which means stronger and more heartfelt references for you.

Give your references all of the necessary information.

This doesn’t mean to write the letter for them, but instead, after you’ve asked, send them an email with anything they may need to know about you.  This can include an academic resume, a timeline of their association with you – you can even request that they mention an achievement you’re particularly proud of (if they were involved in it, of course – unless your calculus teacher is also your soccer coach, you shouldn’t ask them to mention the time you scored the winning field goal!).  Tell your instructor what your major will be, what colleges you’re most excited about, and anything other useful information.  Doing this can help prevent generic platitudes, and helps teachers give you a recommendation tailored to your collegiate goals.

Make it easy.

Teachers are busy, from course planning, grading assignments, supervising extracurricular activities, and having their own lives outside of the classroom.   When you ask for a recommendation, tell the teacher what the deadline is, give them an envelope that’s already been addressed and stamped, and be sure to follow up with them before the letter is due.  You don’t want your recommendation letter to get lost in the shuffle, and the easier you make it, the more enthusiastic the teacher will be about writing it.

Say thank you.

Once the letter has been sent, say thank you!  Hand-write a personalized thank you note to each instructor you asked, letting them know how much you appreciate the fact that they took time out of their day to write a note for you.  When you get accepted, let your references know again how thankful you are, and tell them where you’ve decided to go so they can celebrate with you!

Reference letters are a very important component of college applications, so request them early and request them right for best results!

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