When and how to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for College

By: Caroline Koppelman

As we’ve said, colleges aren’t just admitting your grades and test scores. They really want to know who you are and why you would be a good fit at their school. By your senior year, there isn’t much you can do to change the nature of your application. Unless you are retaking your tests, your grades and scores are basically set. There are only a few aspects of your application that you get to start from scratch at this point: your essays, your supplements, and your recommendation letters. Your teachers work with you everyday and can speak to qualities you possess that aren’t mentioned elsewhere in your application. The quality of your recommendation letter is extremely important, but we’ve found a lot of our students feel awkward when it comes time to ask their teachers. Here’s a guide to help you figure out how and when you ask your teachers for letters. 

When to ask: 
Ideally you should ask your teachers for letters by the end of your junior year. As with most facets of the process, the earlier you ask the better. Second semester is the ideal time, but you should focus on forming close relationships with your junior year teachers all year. You want to ask towards the end of the semester because they will have spent almost an entire year teaching you and getting to know you. If you ask during first semester, they may be hesitant to say yes. But, don’t wait until the last week of school. April is the best month to approach your teachers and start the conversation. You want to be one of the first letters a teacher writes. Teachers can get stressed out and overworked if they’re writing dozens of letters, so it’s best to be among the first when they’re freshest. Some teachers prefer to write letters over the summer when they have more free time, so be polite and ask early. Many teachers are swamped with recommendation letters during the first semester of senior year, and you don’t want to end up on the end of their list. 

How to ask: 
Go up to your teacher at the end of class and ask if you can have a meeting with them to discuss a letter of recommendation. If you have a good relationship with your teacher, they will probably offer a time to talk. When you meet with them, remember to be incredibly gracious and considerate of their time. When you ask, tell the teacher specifically why you have chosen them. Perhaps you have a special bond with them or they have seen you grow in a number of ways. The clearer your reasons, the more inspiration your teacher will have for their letter. Remind them of specific projects, essays, and presentations you did in their class, and tell them you can write up short paragraphs about each of them if they would like. 

Things to Remember: 
Ultimately your teachers want you to succeed, so don’t worry about burdening them by asking them for a letter. But, since your teachers will most likely be asked to write letters for numerous students, you should remind them of your deadlines and ask early in April of your junior year. Once they’ve finished writing all of the letters, write a personalized thank you note.