Do’s and Don’ts: Asking for Letters of Recommendation

Many students end up asking for a letter of recommendation.

Flickr user Allison Mickel

Whether it’s for a college application, a scholarship, an internship opportunity, or something else, odds are you’ll be required to produce a letter of recommendation at multiple points in your education. These letters serve as a sort of testimony to you as a person, student, and member of society. Written by teachers, coaches, and other leaders, the letters are often an integral part of earning whatever you’re applying for.

Asking people for a letter of recommendation can feel like a daunting task. It’s not always easy to ask other people for favors, especially when your future feels as though it hangs in the balance. How do you ask someone to take time out of their schedule to benefit you?

Here is a collection of do’s and don’ts to help you find those answers and determine once and for all how to ask for a letter of recommendation in person.

DO: Be Polite.

This one is a given regardless of who you are asking to write a recommendation letter for you. It doesn’t matter if they’re from your school or workplace. And it’s a good rule of thumb whenever you’re asking for a favor and in life in general!

You don’t want to demand they write the letter for you – that’s a surefire way to get a “no!”  Instead, ask in a polite way and no matter the answer, thank them for their time.

And we do recommend being polite and considerate during the entire process. If the deadline is fast approaching, make sure to give them a (polite) nudge. You don’t want to ask every day for the letter and put a bad taste in their mouth about the favor they’re doing for you!

DON’T: Leave Things to Last Minute.

You will set yourself up for disappointment if you someone to write you a letter of recommendation two weeks before the due date. Most people you ask for a recommendation letter are all too happy to write it, but they need time. Professors and teachers are busy over the course of a school year with tests and papers to grade and classes to plan.

They also have (gasp) personal lives outside of school. The same goes for any current or former employers you ask. The more time you can give a possible writer, the more likely you are to receive a letter. The earlier you ask, the better.

It’s also nice if you can provide the date you need it by to ensure everyone is on the same timeline. You don’t want to give them your official application deadline (usually January 1st for regular decision applications) as you don’t want to hand your application in last minute either!

DO: Consider Your Intended Major.

If you’re intending on majoring in English, you might not want to ask your Chemistry teacher for a letter of recommendation. It’s a better idea to ask an English teacher! They know your strengths and weaknesses in the subject, and can attest to your ability. And be sure to let the individual know your intended major ahead of time.

For those hard-to-get-into programs, such as Engineering, you may be required by the potential college to get a letter from a teacher in a related subject.

DON’T: Automatically Ask Your Favorites.

While you might want to head straight to your favorite teacher for a letter of recommendation, that may not always be the best choice. You don’t want someone to only give you a glowing review. You want a teacher or writer who knows you as a whole person – no one is perfect! Above all, you’ll need an effective, well-rounded letter in order to impress the admissions department, and this won’t always come from your favorite teacher.

DO: Let Them See Your College Essay.

Did you know that it’s a good idea to let your letter of recommendation writer see your college essay? This will help them see your mindset and goals when it comes to your college education. They may be able to incorporate some of what you’re expressing into the letter itself, which further backs up what you’re trying to tell the admissions department.

They may also be able to give you some advice on the essay itself!

DON’T: Consider the Bare Minimum Number of People.

It is important to remember that things happen that are not in our control. Emergencies come up, heavy workloads take all our energy, surprise conferences and travel are required, things are forgotten, and more.

With that in mind, it pays to ask a few extra people for a letter of recommendation. If you need three letters, try asking five people. You don’t have to mention you’re asking extra people. That way, if one of the teachers or adults you asked falls through, forgets completely, politely declines, or ignores your polite nudges, you have back ups without having to worry.

If this situation happens to you and you have to ask someone last minute, be sure to explain the issue to them. They’ll be more likely to help you.

DO: Ask for the Letter of Recommendation in Person.

Of course, you should aim to ask for the letter of recommendation in person if possible. It’s always nice to do these things face to face, and even though it can be a little anxiety-inducing, it will always be appreciated. A lot is lost in text and email.

DON’T: Fail to Write a Thank You Note.

After you have your letters of recommendation in hand, your job isn’t done yet! It’s a good idea to thank all of your writers with a thank you note. It doesn’t have to be anything grand, but just a letter that lets them know you appreciate their time and assistance will go far!

 Asking for letters of recommendation in person is a great way to help guarantee your teachers and other adults in your life say “yes” to your request. During the entire process, from asking to submitting your application, make sure to keep these do’s and don’ts in mind. It will make your writers feel appreciated! They are, after all, taking time out of their busy schedules to help you!

Letters of recommendation are a vital component to college applications. Do you know what else you need to have a solid chance of getting accepted to your dream school? Check out our FREE College Match tool to see your admission chances, what you need on the SAT/ACT, and more.

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