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How to Ask for Recommendation Letters

For incoming high school seniors, there are many aspects of their college applications, but perhaps the most intimidating task is seeking recommendations from teachers and other faculty. While there is nothing intrinsically harmful about asking someone for a recommendation, many students find the favor inappropriate or even impossible.

Recommendation letters, believe or not, are a common part of life, and asking teachers or other school-related officials for one is not uncommon practice. In fact, it is often a necessary component to a successful college application. So do not think that you are bothering your teachers, counselors, or coaches with a request to write one. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with faculty and also as a time to remind yourself of your high school accomplishments.

Even though your high school expects students to need recommendation letters for college applications, there are still ways that you can appropriately or inappropriately ask someone for a recommendation. You want to make sure that you follow these guidelines so you don’t find yourself in an awkward position or, even worse, without letters:

1) Ask sooner than later. (In person is best, but email may be more practical.)

This may be the golden rule for any favor, but keep it in mind especially for someone writing you a letter of recommendation. Starting today, you should be thinking about whom you need to ask, if you haven’t already.

2) Ask teachers who know you best.

You need to think of the classes in which you participated the most. For example, if you are applying for a science major, hopefully you contributed a lot in a science class, especially an AP version of that class. Also, you should consider teachers with whom you have spent the most time--maybe in tutoring, during after-school activities, or while helping prepare for class. These people will have the most to say about you, and more likely than not, it will be positive. Not only that, universities love applicants who show strong relationships with faculty; it suggests that they will develop bonds with professors and do great things.

3) Ask one non-faculty member.

Teachers are an important resource for your recommendation letters, but asking a counselor or academic club supervisor will be equally important. Counselors help provide a holistic image of who you are, and club supervisors can shed light on your attributes that are sometimes overlooked in purely academic settings. For example, for business school applicants, there is not necessarily a business class, but a club supervisor for DECA can provide some key insight into your business acumen.

4) Provide recommenders with as many details as possible.

Even though you may be on great terms with your recommenders, they still will not know everything about you, and they will probably not know your exact college plans. Tell them the schools you are applying to, the deadlines for these schools, the majors you are choosing, and any other relevant information about your applications. Also, it would not hurt to kindly remind them who you are, especially if you have not seen the recommender in a year or two. (Try to use more recent recommenders if you can.)

5) Thank your recommenders with a note.

While recommenders often expect students to ask them for letters, you should still thank them with a formal note. Teachers and other staff spend time writing thoughtful letters, so you need to show your appreciation.

Regardless of where you are in your college application process, it is a good time to start thinking about recommendation letters. Finishing these letters earlier rather than later will save you a lot of headaches and worry. Take my recommendation on this.

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