How to ask for a stellar letter of recommendation

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Kate Sliunkova

AdmitYogi, Stanford MBA & MA in Education

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8 min read

How to ask for a stellar letter of recommendation

Introduction

As a high school student, one of the most important parts of your college application is the letter of recommendation. These letters, written by teachers, coaches, or other adults who know you well, provide insight into your character, work ethic, and academic achievements. They can help admissions committees understand what sets you apart from other applicants and why you would be a valuable addition to their college community.

However, obtaining strong letters of recommendation can be a daunting task. How do you choose the right person to ask? How do you approach the request? And how can you ensure that the letter emphasizes your strengths and accomplishments?

In this article, we'll provide guidance on how to request and obtain strong letters of recommendation for high school students, with a focus on the college admissions process. We'll cover best practices for requesting letters of recommendation, tips for writing a strong letter of recommendation for a high school student, sample letters of recommendation for high school students, and common questions and concerns related to the letter of recommendation process. Whether you're a high school student or a parent trying to help your child navigate the college application process, this article will provide you with the insights and tools you need to succeed.

Best practices for requesting letters of recommendation

One of the keys to obtaining strong letters of recommendation is to approach the request in a thoughtful and strategic way. Here are some best practices to keep in mind when requesting a letter of recommendation:

  1. Choose the right person to ask: When selecting someone to write your letter, consider individuals who know you well and can speak to your strengths and accomplishments. This could be a teacher, coach, guidance counselor, or other adult who has worked closely with you.
  2. Provide ample notice: Give your recommender plenty of time to write the letter by making the request well in advance of the application deadline. Ideally, you should give them at least a month's notice, but the earlier the better.
  3. Offer to provide additional information: To help your recommender write an effective letter, consider providing them with a list of your accomplishments, extracurricular activities, and personal qualities you would like emphasized in the letter. This can help them better understand your strengths and accomplishments.
  4. Emphasize the importance of the letter: Let your recommender know how much their letter means to you and how it can make a difference in your college admissions process. This can motivate them to put in the extra effort to write a strong letter.
  5. Follow up as needed: Check in with your recommender periodically to make sure the letter is on track to be submitted on time. If they need additional information or reminders, be sure to provide it promptly.

In addition to these best practices, it's also important to ensure that the letter emphasizes your strengths and accomplishments relevant to college admission. This can include your academic achievements, extracurricular activities, leadership experience, community service, and personal qualities that make you a good fit for the college you're applying to. In the next section, we'll provide tips on what strong recommendation letters look like.

What does a strong letter of recommendation look like?

When asking a teacher for a letter of recommendation, it's important that they know unique, specific, and impressive qualities about you that they can highlight in their letter. Good recommendation letters normally contain the following:

  1. Start with a strong opening: Begin your letter with a strong opening that catches the reader's attention and sets a positive tone for the rest of the letter. Consider starting with a personal anecdote or a specific example of the student's achievements.
  2. Emphasize the student's strengths and accomplishments: Throughout the letter, be sure to emphasize the student's strengths and accomplishments, and provide specific examples to illustrate these points. This can include their academic achievements, extracurricular activities, leadership experience, community service, and personal qualities.
  3. Use specific language: Use specific language and examples to support your claims about the student's strengths and accomplishments. This can help bring the letter to life and make it more memorable for the reader.
  4. Avoid clichés: Avoid using clichés or generic phrases that don't provide specific information about the student. Instead, focus on providing concrete examples that demonstrate the student's strengths and accomplishments.
  5. Be honest and authentic: Be honest and authentic in your letter, and provide a balanced view of the student's strengths and weaknesses. This can help the reader gain a more accurate understanding of the student's character and potential.

By following these tips, you can help ensure that your letter of recommendation is strong, effective, and memorable. In the next section, we'll provide more insight into some of the most commonly asked questions about letters of recommendation.

Common concerns and questions about letters of recommendation

As you navigate the letter of recommendation process, you may encounter some common questions and concerns. Here are some answers to help you address these issues:

  1. How many letters of recommendation should I request?

Most colleges require at least two letters of recommendation, but some may require more. Check the application requirements carefully to ensure that you provide the correct number of letters.

  1. Who should I ask to write my letters of recommendation?

Select individuals who know you well and can speak to your strengths and accomplishments. This could be a teacher, coach, guidance counselor, or other adult who has worked closely with you.

  1. Is it better to ask for a letter of recommendation in person or via email?

While it's ideal to ask in person, an email can be an appropriate option if an in-person meeting is not possible. Be sure to follow the same best practices regardless of the method of communication.

  1. How early should I ask for a letter of recommendation?

It's best to ask at least a month in advance of the application deadline, but the earlier the better. This gives your recommender plenty of time to write a strong letter.

  1. Can I request a letter of recommendation from a family member or friend?

While it's not generally recommended to request a letter of recommendation from a family member or friend, there may be situations where this is appropriate. Check with the college or scholarship organization to see if they have specific guidelines on who can write a letter of recommendation.

  1. How long should you know a teacher before asking for a letter of recommendation?

It's generally recommended to ask someone who has known you for at least a year, preferably in an academic or extracurricular context. This allows them to provide a more detailed and accurate assessment of your abilities and potential.

  1. What grade should your recommender come from?

It's recommended to request letters of recommendation from teachers or other adults who have worked with you in your junior or senior year of high school. This allows them to provide a more recent and relevant assessment of your abilities and potential.

  1. How do you ask for a last-minute letter of recommendation?

If you find yourself in a situation where you need a letter of recommendation on short notice, it's best to approach someone who knows you well and can write the letter quickly. Be sure to explain why the letter is needed urgently, and provide any necessary information to help the recommender write a strong letter.

  1. How should you get letters of recommendation if you don't know anyone?

If you don't have any close relationships with teachers or other adults who could write a letter of recommendation, consider reaching out to someone in your community who may be willing to help. This could be a coach, mentor, or employer. Be sure to explain why you're asking for a letter of recommendation and provide any necessary information to help them write a strong letter.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the college application process can be challenging and overwhelming, but with the right approach and resources, you can navigate it successfully. Remember to plan ahead, choose your recommenders thoughtfully, and be grateful for their time and effort. By following the tips and best practices outlined in this article, you can increase your chances of obtaining strong letters of recommendation and presenting yourself in the best possible light to college admissions committees. We hope this article has been helpful in guiding you through this important aspect of the college application process. Good luck with your college search!

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