Requesting a Letter of Rec
Some schools require them, some may request them, but eventually during your college application process chances are you’re going to need two letters of recommendation. But where do you begin? How do you ask your favorite teacher or coach to write all about you? What do you ask them to write? What are colleges looking for?
The reason schools ask for letters of recommendation is because they make you more “human”. When applying for college, so much of your talents and accomplishments are just numbers on a piece of paper. Combined with the personal statement, a strong letter of recommendation will show college admissions officers what you are like in person, how you interact with others, and will help to humanize you as the letter writers you select describe who you really are.
The most important thing to keep in mind when asking for a letter of recommendation is timing. No matter how stellar of a student you may have been in your chemistry class, if you ask your teacher to write a letter of recommendation that is due the next day, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Your teacher is either going to be rushed writing the letter or may not be able to complete it at all. Give your teachers and coaches at least two weeks notice to complete your letters of recommendation.
It’s also important to consider who you choose to write your letters. Colleges look at all four years of your high school career but the key years they will be looking closest at as you apply for college are your sophomore and junior years. You may be taking ceramics for the first time as a senior, and while you really enjoy the teacher, a letter from a core subject teacher you had during your sophomore or junior year will probably hold more weight. Focus on teachers who have known you for more than a few months and also focus on teachers who represent your proposed major. If you want to major in English and had a great experience in AP Literature your junior year, that would be an ideal teacher to ask for a letter of recommendation.
Make sure that you are choosing a teacher or coach who will give you a positive review. If you ditched their class, got suspended, had issues with the teacher that remain unresolved, etc., you might not be happy with the recommendation that they write. If you’re unsure, avoid asking that teacher or coach to write a letter for you. Most teachers will be upfront if they don’t feel that they can write a favorable review of a student, but don’t take any chances.
Finally, make it as easy as possible for your teacher or coach to write a personal, specific, glowing letter of recommendation all about you. Most adults don’t know how dynamic their students are because they only interact with them in one setting. Click below for a complete questionnaire that I always ask students to fill out before they ask me to write a letter of recommendation. As I write, I’m able to look over the student’s self evaluation and add information that I did not know about my student to help college admissions officers to “see” the student behind the application.