How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Asking for a letter of recommendation is an important skill in life! There may be many times throughout your education and career where you need a teacher, counselor, manager or colleague to write a letter of recommendation for you or to serve as a reference. This can have a big impact on your application so it’s important to do it well.

I’ve written hundreds of letters of recommendation and been a reference for hundreds of job applicants and here are the things that will result in you getting the best possible letter of recommendation or strongest positive reference!

Why do you need a Letter of Recommendation?

Some four year colleges require letters of recommendation as part of the application process. Letters of recommendation provide additional information to the college that makes your application more personal and is an amazing opportunity to let others help tell your story while giving additional insight into your character. People who have taught or managed you have a unique perspective on your abilities and who you are. 

The better the person knows you the more information they can provide to strengthen your college application or job prospects so it’s important to give some thought to who you are asking.

Who to ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Start by making a list of several people who can be recommenders for you. In some cases, colleges may require that a specific person, such as your school counselor. Most of the time, you can choose at least one other recommender. 

Recommenders cannot be family members, but they could be teachers, school counselors, managers, faith leaders or supervisors of volunteer work.

For college letters of recommendation, you definitely want to have at least one teacher because your teachers are most familiar with your academic work and who you are as a student. Think about teachers who have a strong relationship with, or who have known you over time. You can also think about teachers whose classes you really enjoyed.

Scholarship applications which require letters of recommendation are often more flexible about who your recommender is, and this could be a great opportunity for a faith leader or volunteer work supervisor to recommend you. Choosing someone who knows you well and can provide more information about you to the scholarship committee is important.

In making your list, think about teachers or others who know you best and you have a good relationship with. They will have the most positive information to share about you with a college admissions committee. It doesn’t matter what subject they teach or when you were their student. 

Spend a few minutes writing down why you want to ask each recommender and what you want to say to them. This will make it easier to ask if you’re prepared with some specifics about why you are asking them.

How to ask for a Letter of Recommendation

  1. Be awesome – it really helps if the person you are asking for a letter of recommendation likes and respects you! It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have received an A in their class. What’s most important is they see you as a respectful, curious and kind person. Be that person!
  2. If possible, ask in person – especially if you’re asking a teacher or school counselor. You can follow up with an email with additional information so they can keep track of the details.
  3. Ask EARLY, with lots of time before the deadline – ask your recommender for a letter as far ahead of the deadline as possible, a minimum of a month ahead. Most people who write letters of recommendation write a lot of them so having a lot of time is helpful for them and shows respect for their time. If you do have to ask someone at the last minute, acknowledge that it’s last minute and why and be extra understanding if they are not able to do it. If you’re asking the person to be a recommender for a job, give them a heads up that you’re applying and using them as a reference.
  4. ASK, don’t assume – Ask the person if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation. Don’t assume they will! This shows respect and humility on your part and gives them choices. Most people will say yes! If for some reason a person says no, don’t take it personally. Graciously thank them for their response and move on to someone else.
  5. Tell them why you are asking them – When you ask for the letter, tell them why you are asking them, instead of someone else. It might be because you really liked their class, or because you feel that they can describe an aspect of you as a person or student that others might not see. It might be because you connected with them more than others. Whatever it is, let them know why you are asking them for the letter of recommendation.
  6. Tell them what it’s for and give as much information about the letter as possible – It’s amazing how often people forget to mention exactly what the letter is FOR. This is important! If it’s for college or graduate school, let them know what the school is. If it’s for a scholarship, let them know a bit about the scholarship and what the scholarship committee is looking for. If you’re asking for a recommender for a job, tell them a bit about the job and why you’re interested in it. If you know there is something specific the admissions committee or hiring committee is looking for, mention it. 
  7. Give them the deadline and where to send the letter – is it submitted electronically? Or does it need to be mailed somewhere? If it is submitted electronically, give them clear instructions for how to do that. If it needs to be mailed, given them an envelope and a stamp.
  8. Give them as much information about you as possible – Even if they know you well, it’s extremely helpful to have everything you need right there when writing the letter of recommendation. If you have a resume, give that to them. Give them a copy of your personal statement (even if it’s still a draft). Give them information about the classes you’ve taken since you had them as a teacher or professor (a transcript is a good way to do this). If your recommender is a former manager, bring them up to speed on what you’ve done since you worked for them.
  9. Waive your right to see the letter – sometimes applications will ask you to say it’s ok to have the person submit the letter without you reading it. If they ask this, it’s important to say yes! This helps guarantee that the letter will be honest and not influenced by knowing you may see it.
  10. Send a thank you note – this is so important to show appreciation for the time someone took to recommend you! Go the extra mile with an actual paper thank you card, these are always appreciated.

By Jennie Flaming