College 101: Requesting Letters of Recommendation


Why Recommendation Letters are Important

When applying for college, you’ll most likely need to include one to two letters of recommendation from a high school teacher with your application. Colleges use these letters of recommendation to understand the whole student as a part of the holistic review process. Letters of recommendation allow admissions officers to learn more about your personal background, values, and interests by getting a unique perspective from someone who knows you well. Since many students are qualified in terms of academic requirements like grades and test scores, letters of recommendations also help admission officers differentiate between applicants in a highly competitive environment, and admit students who best represent the ideas and attitudes of the institution.  

It’s important to note that admissions officers are accustomed to reading positive recommendations for college applicants as a rule and not an exception. For this reason, it’s essential that you find teachers who know you well and can write a decent letter on your behalf. More importantly, not having letters of recommendation can significantly impact your chances of admission since admissions officers expect most applicants to be able to find at least one teacher who can speak positively about them.

Before requesting a letter from a particular teacher, consider the relationship you have with them. If you didn’t do well in their class or had a personal conflict with the teacher, it’s probably best not to ask them for a recommendation considering they might write something about you that’s not so flattering. Choose a recommender who you have a good relationship with and who you can count on to write you positive letter.

Other questions to consider before asking a teacher for a letter of recommendation:

  • Does this teacher know my strengths and interests both inside and outside the classroom?

  • ⁠Did I do well in this teacher’s class? Did I enjoy it?

  • Have I always acted professionally and ethically in their presence?

  • ⁠Can this teacher comment on my intellectual development and achievements?

Asking teachers for letters of recommendation can be awkward for some, and downright painful for others, but it’s still a necessary part of the application. Couple that with the fact that your recommenders will probably receive requests to write letters from multiple students and won’t have a ton of time to devote to each letter. Providing additional information to your teacher recommender will ensure they have plenty of details to write your letter and will make the initial ask easier. Sharing your input will also allow the recommender to write a more meaningful and in-depth letter. Remember, good recommendations are personal, insightful, and specific.

What Information Should You Provide to Recommenders

  • Your transcript

  • A copy of your resume

  • ⁠Papers or projects you have written for this professor with his/her comments

  • A draft of your application essay

  • A list of deadlines, addresses, and instructions for how your letter should be sent

  • A list of strengths, interests, or values you’d like the teacher to highlight in your letter

  • ⁠A draft letter of recommendation if requested by the teacher

Remember to Check In

After your recommender has had time to review the information you provided, they might have additional questions about writing or submitting the letter, especially if the instructions are different than what they normally see with the Common App or Coalition App. Be sure to answer any questions promptly to aid in the timely submission of your letter. If you find that your teachers have not submitted their letters and it’s close to the deadline, check in by sending them a friendly reminder.

Don’t forget to say thank you

As a common courtesy and a show of your appreciation, you should send a thank you note to the teachers who have taken time to write your letters of recommendation. Write and send thank you notes immediately after you know the recommender has sent the letter. Aside from showing your gratitude, a thank you note will leave you in your recommender’s good graces should you need another recommendation or have a similar ask in the future.

Key Takeaways for Recommendation Requests

  • Ask a teacher who knows you well and can write a positive letter

  • Provide input to give your recommender plenty of content to write a personal and meaningful letter

  • Don’t forget to check in with your recommender before the deadline and send thank you notes afterwards