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How to Get Great College Recommendation Letters: Help Them Help You

Getting stellar letters of recommendation is an important way to stand out in the college admissions process. Personal letters from teachers, counselors, and other sources help college admissions officers get a fuller picture of applicants and help them envision how those applicants will contribute to their campus community.

Getting high caliber recommendations is a process and it takes time, care, and planning. Here is what you need to know to strategically solicit the best college recommendations you can:

Who to Ask

Admissions officers usually want to see letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors. The better you get to know your counselor, the more likely they will be to write you a personal and compelling recommendation. With teachers, ideally you should ask those who know you well and like you a lot, have taught you recently (junior year is preferable) and teach you in one of your core academic areas. Some colleges will require recommendations from teachers in specific areas so it is important to check on this.

When to Ask

The best time to ask is way in advance, ideally during the spring of junior year. This gives your recommenders plenty of time to prepare and plan in order to dedicate the time they need to do the best job they can on your letter. Teachers are human and the more time you give them, the more they will love you for it, and in turn will be eager to help you. If you don’t ask until the fall of senior year, it will probably be alright, but you’re pushing your luck. Some teachers and counselors prefer to write their recommendations over the summer before the onslaught of the hectic fall and some will commit to writing recommendations for a finite number of students each year. Don’t wait too long and risk finding out that your could-be recommender has already reached their limit.

How to Ask

Be really nice: Writing recommendation letters is not part of your teachers’ job. They don’t get paid extra for it and they don’t have to do it. If they offer to write you a recommendation letter, it is because they care about you and they want to help you achieve your goals and dreams. Be grateful and be gracious when you ask.

Send an email that you follow up in person. Ideally, send an email asking your teacher if you may schedule a brief meeting to discuss your college recommendation. This gives them an idea what you want to discuss and they will appreciate your thoughtfulness and professionalism.

Make it Easy

Once a teacher or other recommender generously agrees to write a letter on your behalf, make it easy for them. Within 24 hours, in an email, thank them, and provide them with information that will make their job easier, Share your resume or at least a write-up of your achievements and what you have been up to in and out of school over the past four years. Share some memories from their class, describing what you learned and explaining what made it special. Share what you are excited about in college and what you look forward to studying. This will help your recommender write about what makes you unique and will enable them to highlight your strengths and how you will contribute to your future college community.

Say Thank You

Once your teacher, counselor, or other recommender has written your recommendation, it is important to thank them for taking the time and making the effort to help you. Whether it is through a heartfelt email, a personal conversation, or a hand-made card, a sincere gesture of gratitude is in order. Keep them in the loop throughout your college process. Getting to be part of your success and happiness will be the best thanks they can receive.

Contact for help securing your college recommendations and for all aspects of your college admissions process.

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