Letters of recommendation are almost always a necessary part of the college application process. Sometimes, you’ll need a letter of recommendation even to apply for a scholarship or other opportunity. So, it’s important to not only know who to ask for this all-important letter but also how to ask.
Asking a teacher for a letter of recommendation can be nerve-wracking, especially if you are generally shy or don’t speak with your teachers one-on-one very often. However, as long as you follow a few guidelines and approach respectfully, you will be absolutely fine and have a stellar letter of recommendation for your application.
When thinking about asking for a letter of rec, keep these tips in mind:
Depending on the kind of letter of recommendation you want, you’ll need to ask the appropriate teacher. Generally, you’ll want to choose a teacher who knows you well, has a positive opinion of you, and can highlight your strengths.
Often, the teacher you choose should match the message you want to send in your application. You might choose your biology teacher who you’ve assisted for a year if you’re applying to major in the sciences, for example.
However, sometimes, asking a teacher who can offer a new perspective that isn’t already in your application helps. For instance, if you’ve volunteered for an organization or extracurricular activity that doesn’t show up in your application much, perhaps asking the supervising teacher to write you a letter of recommendation will help highlight that aspect of your personality and skill.
If you ask more than one teacher, try to ask teachers who will provide different perspectives to highlight varying strengths that you have as a student.
Whatever aspect of you that you want to highlight, choose a teacher who knows about that aspect and will write well on the subject. If you don’t speak often with any of your teachers, it might help to establish a relationship by visiting office hours first.
No matter who you ask, make sure you plan to ask them well ahead of the deadline. Teachers are busy, and sometimes the process requires them to send in the letter for approval or to mail the letter, in which case you’ll need extra time.
If you approach a teacher and tell them you need a letter of recommendation in the next week, that teacher likely won’t have much time to write you the kind of letter you want. Make sure to be respectful of your teacher’s time and the effort it takes to write a great letter of recommendation.
You should also assume this teacher is already writing a few letters of recommendation, especially closer to college application season. If you can ask well in advance, you’ll get a much better result.
Though it might be tempting to ask your teacher to write a letter of recommendation for you over email, asking in person is much more respectful and will give you the chance to connect with the teacher more personally.
Your teacher will likely be more willing and excited to write a letter of recommendation for you when you approach respectfully in person rather than impersonally in an email.
If you are asking a past teacher who you cannot ask in person, or cannot ask in person due to Covid-19, consider emailing and asking if you can speak with them on the phone or on video chat.
When you do approach a teacher to ask for a letter of recommendation, make sure that you approach alone, rather than asking in a group of other students. Teachers might feel overwhelmed if more than one student is asking for a letter, and you’ll be less likely to get their undivided attention.
In addition, always approach during office hours or another time when a teacher seems to have free time to speak with students. Hopefully, your teacher has given you an idea of when is appropriate to approach them, so respect their time and space accordingly.
Depending on the application, you might have a list of requirements for any letter of recommendation sent to the institution in question. In that case, make sure that you give your teacher all the information they need to write and send the letter.
Be up front about the institution to which you are applying and what they’re looking for, and answer any questions your teacher may have about the formatting and process.
After you ask for a letter of recommendation, make sure to respect the process your teacher usually follows for writing letters of rec. Chances are, this is not the first letter of recommendation your teacher has written.
Some teachers have a questionnaire they like students to fill out or want to ask you questions about what you expect from the letter. Some do not want you to read the letter, and some might want feedback. Whatever the process they prefer, make sure you follow it in a timely fashion.
If your teacher needs to mail in your letter of recommendation to a certain office, make sure you provide an addressed envelope with a stamp. Offer to help with any part of the process to make it as easy as possible on the teacher.
Once you’ve asked for the letter and given all necessary information, including the deadline, make sure to follow up with your teacher or send them a reminder. Don’t expect your teacher to keep track of deadlines.
Consider the letter your responsibility and make sure you help your teacher succeed in getting the letter in on time.
Once the letter of recommendation has been sent, make sure to thank your teacher for their time and work! You can thank them in person, write out a thank-you note, or even get them a small gift as a thanks.
This is especially important because you want to show gratitude for their effort on your behalf and also keep the option open for any further letters in the future. However, as a rule, it’s best not to ask the same teacher for two letters.
As a thank you, make sure to return any favors your teacher might need from you, whether that’s an evaluation, a letter for them, or help in the classroom.
Since 2002, NSHSS has supported young academics on their journey to college and beyond as they prepare to become the leaders of tomorrow. The mission behind NSHSS is to recognize academic excellence and honor high-achieving students, providing them with the resources and network to excel in college, career and community. In doing so, NSHSS connects members with global events, scholarships, college fairs, internships, career and leadership programs, partner discounts, and more. Discover what makes NSHSS worth it to student members and how you can get involved.
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