COLLEGE HELP: Letters of Recommendation

Yes, it’s that time again—time to start working on college applications! After a short break, the college help series is back to give you a few more tips on applying. The focus this week is letters of recommendation.

            If you haven’t already, now is the time to ask your teachers if they will write you a recommendation. Here are some tips on who to ask, and how to ask:

  • Sometimes colleges require letters from teachers in different subjects (such as one math/science and one humanities), so be sure to check. If you don’t have any requirements, be sure to pick teachers that know you best—you want them to have plenty of things to write about. Also, keep in mind that recommendations must usually come from an 11th or 12th grade teacher in a core subject (not art, music, etc.).
  • Recommendations are often a good place for teachers to explain other parts of your application, such as a grade. If you got a B in a really difficult class, it may be an opportunity for your teacher to explain how you worked very hard for that grade. Think strategically about what your teachers will say.
  • Ask early! So if you haven’t asked your teachers yet, get on it! When you ask, be polite and give them a way out if they don’t want to write for you. For example, don’t say “You’ll write me a college recommendation, right?” Ask “Would you feel comfortable writing me a college recommendation?” That way, they can decline if they feel that they would not write you a good letter (which is much better than the college receiving a bad one).

These days, most recommendations are done online (like for the Common App). If that is the case for you, be sure that your teacher gets the necessary websites/links and give them all the info they need (due dates, resume, etc.) via email or hard copy. If one of your apps requires a recommendation on paper, give them everything they need in a packet (don’t expect them to buy stamps or pay for copies!).

            If you are hoping to have a coach, music teacher, or other significant adult write you a recommendation, check that the college takes extras. Most colleges will accept one or two above the requirement, but don’t go overboard. If the requirement is one, don’t send five—the college simply won’t read them.

            Lastly, thank your teachers! A nice handwritten thank-you card and maybe a small gift (like a Starbucks gift card) is an appreciative gesture after all the recommendations have been submitted. A thoughtful thank-you will ensure that your teachers are glad they decided to write for you!


Post by Callan, teen blogger

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