The Ins and Outs of Asking for Letters of Recommendation: A Step by Step Guide for College Applications


Like your college essay, letters of recommendation allow admissions counselors to gain a better sense of who you are. While your SAT scores and grades give an idea of your academic capabilities, your recommenders can speak to your personality, your work ethic, and what you might bring to the campus culture.

To hear from different perspectives and build a fuller picture of who you are as a student, many colleges require two to three letters of recommendation, usually with one being your guidance counselor. Some colleges even provide a space for supplemental letters, so if you have a manager at your part-time job or a coach you’ve known for years, you can think about including their letters.

Who to ask:

Double check each school’s admissions guidelines to find out how many recommendations you need and what the requirements are for each letter. For the most part, colleges expect recommendations to be from your guidance counselor and teacher(s). Who are the teachers you have a good relationships with? Which teachers can attest to your character and academic capabilities? Think about the teachers who have been most impactful to your growth as a student. Which teachers do you have the best rapport with?

Photo by  STIL  on  Unsplash

Photo by STIL on Unsplash


When to ask:

Ideally, you should aim to select your recommenders by the end of your junior year. If you think about it, a dozen or more other students could be asking the same person for a recommendation. Whoever you’re asking has a limited amount of time to accommodate requests. The earlier you approach your recommender, the earlier you’ll be on their calendar and guaranteed a letter. Meanwhile, if you wait until October, a lot of teachers probably won’t have the space in their calendar to accomodate you, as they’ll need to focus on the students they’ve already agreed to supporting.

How to ask:

For some students, the idea of walking into your teacher’s office and asking for a letter of recommendation is anxiety-producing. For others, talking to teachers face-to-face is the preference. Either way, remember that most teachers are flattered to be asked to write a letter of recommendation. They know you have selected them for the reasons listed above--having a good relationship and rapport with one another. There are two ways to ask your teacher for a recommendation: 1) Office Hours and 2) email. In case you want to take the email route, here is a template you can use


Dear [Ms/Mrs/Mr Last Name],

[Intro: Introduce why you’re reaching out and let them know why you’re asking them to be the ones to write your letter. (Did you enjoy their English class? Did you appreciate extra guidance outside of class? etc) ]

I am reaching out to see if you would be willing to write my college letter of recommendation. I have enjoyed this year’s English class and feel that the end of the year group project has prepared me for success in college. I would be honored if you would be able to write my recommendation.

[Closing statement: let them know you’ll provide more information and thank them for their time]

Thank you for your time and consideration. If you are willing, I’ll pass along my resume and notes to help you with the writing process.


[Your Name]


Whether you decide to ask your teacher in person or through email is completely up to you. What matters most? Your professionalism and maturity. Never assume your teacher is required to say yes, or expect that it is the teacher’s duty to do this for you. Approach your recommender with appreciation and gratitude.  

What to provide recommenders:

Make sure your recommenders have all the information they need to write a successful recommendation letter. Send your resume along to each recommender so they can have a starting point. If you want to make sure the recommender hits on certain points, feel free to share some simple ideas. For example, if you are going to be studying English and your recommender is an English teacher, you could ask if they’d be willing to touch on your writing and time management skills. Alternatively, if you want to highlight teamwork and collaboration in the classroom, ask your teacher to reflect on your group work experience.

Remember to be professional

It is important to be strategic and professional in your approach to requesting letters of recommendation. You want to leave a good impression on your recommender, so remember to be polite, professional, and mature as you communicate throughout the process.