Letters of recommendation can be a great booster to a college application. Some colleges require them, but for others they’re completely optional. But what makes a good recommendation letter? How can you ensure you have what you need out of them? Here are a few tips to help you get a glowing review from your teacher, coach, or community leader.
1. Know What the Letter of Recommendation is For
You know that a letter of recommendation is required or suggested for your college (and scholarship) applications, but do you know why they might be asked for?
Recommendation letters paint a picture of you – and you want them to paint a good picture! While you’re in control of the majority of your applications, the recommendation letter serves as a sort of “outside opinion” of you. A good letter should attest to your character, hard work, aspirations, and work ethic. It should highlight your academic strengths, maybe point out a few weaknesses, and what you’ve done to combat them. All of this usually comes from a teacher’s or community leader’s perspective, too, giving you some great credibility.
2. Don’t Ask Friends or Family
While we’re sure your mom, dad, or other relative or guardian has an excellent, glowing opinion of you, they’re exactly the wrong person to ask for a recommendation letter. And your friends, while they may think you’re great, are also not appropriate.
Your school will likely require you to ask a guardian that is not a friend or family member. And even if it wasn’t mentioned in the requirements, it’s likely still frowned upon. Selecting the right writer is essential. Which brings us to our next tip.
3. Select Your Writers Carefully
While you might want to run straight for your favorite teacher and ask them for your letter of recommendation, you should give it some thought first. You want a teacher or community leader that has seen you grow. Who is someone who has seen you achieve great things, overcome challenges and hurdles, and can attest to your skills and efforts?
In addition, you want to ask someone who has the time to complete a letter while also putting in the effort it requires. You want a teacher or leader who is going to write a bit more than a few sentences about how great you are. It needs to be someone who knows you, knows your aspirations, and has the desire to write the letter for you, too.
This may very well be someone who is your favorite teacher, coach, club director, or supervisor, but it’s important to weigh your options carefully.
4. Ask Early
Teachers tend to have a lot on their plate at any given time. And as the college application deadlines near, teachers are usually swamped with both mid-terms and other students asking for recommendation letters. Don’t wait until the last minute to make the request! They may just have to turn you down, leaving you scrambling, wondering who to ask next.
And if you wait too long, you may not have a letter in hand by the time applications come due on January 1st, especially if the individual forgot all about your request. Even if you do get one, it will likely be hastily written and not the glowing review you would have received if you asked a couple of weeks before.
Asking early, even in September, is a good way to get a “yes” from your teacher, coach, or community leader. This gives them plenty of time to write the letter and time for you to gently remind them if they forget.
5. Be Polite
As mentioned just above, teachers and community leaders are busy. When you ask them to write a letter of recommendation, you’re asking them to take time out of their day and busy schedule to complete something for you. Always say please and thank you. Ask early and give them allowances for taking some time to write it. And do not ambush them, even if your deadline is around the corner.
After the individual has written the recommendation letter, always follow up with a thank you note or email. Thank them for their time, let them know you appreciate their help, an maybe even tell them the outcome!
A Good Letter Paints a Picture of You
You’re in control of the majority of your college application, but the recommendation letter serves as a sort of “outside opinion” of you. A good letter should attest to your character, hard work, aspirations, and work ethic. It should highlight your academic strengths, maybe point out a few weaknesses, and what you’ve done to combat them. All of this comes from a teacher’s or community leader’s perspective too, giving you some great credibility.
Recommendation letters are almost always required in college applications, and often scholarship applications ask for them, too. These tips can work for either. It’s essential though to ask early, ask the right person, and always be polite when making the request.
Do you want to better determine your admission chances to your dream school, learn more about your application, and what you can do to increase your chance of getting that acceptance letter? Use College Raptor’s free College Match tool to get started.