How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation — A Student’s Guide

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As an ambitious senior, you’re most likely focused on studying and acquiring excellent grades. You probably aren’t thinking about other factors that may affect your chances of getting into a good college. For example, most students don’t even know how to pick a college or how to ask for a letter of recommendation.

The truth is — getting into a good school is no easy task. As you already know, you have to maintain your GPA and prepare for your finals and SATs. On top of that, you also have to meet all the requirements of your college of choice.

Among these requirements is a letter of recommendation from one of your teachers, as well as the school counselor. Unfortunately, many students underestimate the importance of a recommendation letter and later have a hard time getting into the school they want.

If you want your college admission to go smoothly, you should learn how to ask for a letter of recommendation the right way. Luckily, this guide is here to help you do just that.

However, before we get into the actual process of asking, let’s see what this letter is all about and why it’s so important.

Things You Should Know About Letters of Recommendation

Why You Need a Letter of Recommendation

Your school report and grade point average speak volumes about your academic capabilities. Still, that’s not enough for a college to assess you as a potential student. Nowadays, with the number of applicants increasing every year, colleges rely on letters of recommendation to get a better insight into your skills and interests.

While a grade reflects your knowledge, a teacher’s recommendation letter describes your attitude toward learning, as well as your level of interest in a particular subject. A teacher can easily notice the students who have the potential to be great. Their opinion can make your application stand out, especially if the teacher’s subject is relevant to the school you’re applying for.

However, you should choose your teacher carefully. It should be someone who knows you well enough. More importantly, they should be willing to put in the time and effort to write the letter.

On the other hand, the school counselor writes a letter of recommendation for every student who wishes to apply for undergraduate or graduate/postgraduate studies, so their letters tend to be a bit less personal. Still, school counselors track your progress across the entirety of your schooling. They can see the “big picture,” which most teachers fail to do.

All in all, a recommendation letter can be the difference between you getting into your school of choice and getting rejected. So, you should definitely keep on reading — learning how to ask for a letter of recommendation is an important step toward higher education.

What Should a Recommendation Letter Contain?

For starters, a teacher’s letter of recommendation should contain a brief introduction. In this part, they should list all the basic information, such as what subject(s) they teach, how long you were their student, your grade in their class, and any awards you won under their tutorship.

Next, the teacher should give their impression of you. For example, they can describe how you participated in their class, if you were active or not, etc. Also, if the teacher writing the letter was tutoring you in some extracurricular projects or contests, they should mention that here, along with some additional information about the project.

In addition to their impression of your skill level, your capacity to learn, as well as academic success, your teacher should also share their thoughts about your personality. Typically, they’ll write about your attitude toward them and their subject.

Lastly, the teacher should share how you would fit in with the college’s curriculum.

Keep in mind that your teacher reserves the right to point out some negative facts about your behavior or success in school, as well. In fact, a letter of recommendation without any critique at all could be perceived as biased and unrealistic.

It needs to be personal and thoughtfully written. A bland, generic, half-heartedly written letter is worse than a scathing but honest critique. Therefore, you should carefully choose who to ask. Half of knowing how to ask for a letter of recommendation is knowing who to pick.

Timing — When Should You Ask?

If you’re like most people, you’ll probably procrastinate and wait until the last moment to ask for a letter of recommendation, let alone send it to your school of choice, along with the rest of your application.

However, holding it off till the last moment is possibly the worst thing you could do. You see, teachers get swamped with requests for recommendation letters as soon as the last semester starts. And if you put in your request at the last minute, it might get lost with all of the others. Consequently, you’ll end up with something mediocre at best. So, you should request a letter at least a month before your application deadline.

Better yet, if possible, you should ask for a recommendation letter at the end of your junior year. That way, the teacher has the whole summer to write the letter carefully and thoughtfully. In addition, it leaves some space for any updates or corrections the letter might need. Besides, everyone knows that teachers love early birds.

Good timing is one of the most important aspects of knowing how to ask for a letter of recommendation. There’s no point in putting it off. Having plenty of time to write it will put your teacher in a good mood, and the letter will most likely reflect that.

On the other hand, try to avoid asking a teacher from your freshman year to write you a letter. Unfortunately, given that they interact with so many students, they probably don’t remember you as well as you remember them. Their letter may end up being generic and impersonal, which could damage your chances of getting into the school you want.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Now, you’re probably worried about how your teacher is going to react when you ask them for a recommendation letter. ‘Are they going to say yes?’ ‘What if they don’t like me?’ These questions go through every student’s mind at that moment.

However, the truth is — most teachers will be more than happy to write a letter of recommendation for you, even if you weren’t one of their best students. Besides, they do that all the time, so one more letter won’t be an issue for them. The same goes for school counselors.

Remember that it’s all a part of their job. And not just that —  the teachers themselves were once students, just like you. If you prepare beforehand and learn what you should/shouldn’t say, you’ll be fine.

Asking Your Teacher(s)

First of all, you should always ask for a recommendation letter in person. Doing so via email will make you seem unprofessional and indifferent, which is the opposite of what you want.

Also, since both teachers and counselors have tight schedules, you may need to arrange a meeting beforehand. You can’t just interrupt their class to ask them for a recommendation letter. Instead, you should catch up with them after school or during their free period.

When making your request, make sure that it’s polite, clear, and concise. Don’t beat around the bush — go straight to the point. Also, let the teacher know how much their subject means to you. After all, that is why you chose to go to them in the first place.

Keep in mind that although it’s highly unlikely, the teacher might turn down your request for some reason. In that case, simply thank the teacher for their time and find someone else to ask. If the teacher seems hesitant, don’t try to persuade them. Obviously, you want someone who will write a sincere and powerful recommendation letter.

Once you find a teacher who’s willing to write you a letter of recommendation, you’ll need to provide them with some additional information. Aside from letting them know about your deadlines and other formalities, you should also take the time to write a brag sheet.

A brag sheet should reflect your values and goals, as well as display some of your most prominent achievements. Really think about who you are and what you want to accomplish with the letter. Essentially, the brag sheet should persuade the teacher to write you the strongest recommendation letter possible.

Asking Your School Counselor

Now that you know how to ask your teacher for a letter of recommendation, it’s time to move on to the school counselor. The counselor’s letter of recommendation might even be more important than the teacher’s. After all, they have a higher ranking, and thus more influence on your college admission.

School counselors are required to write letters for all students they’re assigned to. Sadly, you don’t really make a connection with your counselor during your school years. So, how you will ask them for a letter isn’t a concern. It’s better to focus on the brag sheet and how you present yourself in the meetings.

As previously mentioned, the brag sheet should be specific to your case, not generic. Also, it needs to provide all the relevant information that can help the counselor write a strong recommendation letter for you.

As the school counselor doesn’t know you as well as your teacher does, you’ll need to put extra effort into impressing them once you meet. You’ll probably have at least a couple of meetings.

During those meetings, you’ll get the opportunity to show them who you are and what you’re all about. You’ll also discuss college and the whole application process with them.

Although these meetings are mandatory for every student, you don’t have to wait to get called down to the counselor’s office. In fact, you shouldn’t do that, as it might get too close to the deadline. Your counselor might be swamped.

Instead, schedule a meeting as early as possible. Not only will you leave an impression of a diligent student, but you will also give the counselor plenty of time to write the recommendation letter. They’ll be grateful!

What’s Next?

After you put in all your letter requests, you can’t do much but wait, so please be patient and understanding.

If you want to be sure, you can send your teacher a reminder email about a week before the application deadline. Obviously, you shouldn’t blatantly ask them why they haven’t written the letter yet or otherwise rush them. Instead, simply thank them for accepting to write it at all. Also, let them know that you’re there to help in case they need some additional information.

Although some teachers will let you see the letter and even suggest changes, most of them will just submit it without showing it to you. So, don’t expect anything, and more importantly, don’t pressure them into showing you the letter. After all, it’s supposed to be confidential.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, asking for a letter of recommendation is no big deal. Even though it might make you nervous, you have to agree that it doesn’t take that much effort. If you know how to ask for a letter of recommendation, it’s actually quite easy and painless.

On the other hand, you can’t simply go in unprepared. Aside from learning how to ask for a letter of recommendation the right way, you should also gather all the resources beforehand. For instance, if you write a solid brag sheet before even making a request, you’ll already be three steps ahead. The rest of the puzzle pieces will simply fall into place.

All in all, knowing how to ask for a letter of recommendation is a must for every student who wants to get into a good college. Hopefully, this guide will help you understand the process better and prepare you for what is to come in your final school year. Good luck!

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