How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Almost all recent high school graduates find it difficult to ask for a letter of recommendation because they do not know where to start and who to ask. 

If you are one of these people, do not worry, you are not alone. 

You are probably having a hard time completing your college application because you do not know how to ask for a letter of recommendation. 

As with any other task, it is always difficult to accomplish anything if you do not know where to start. 

The line often gets blurry on who would be the best person to write you a recommendation letter (your teacher? parents? friends?) and how exactly can you request a recommendation letter from them. 

So to help you get started, we have created this guide to help you. 

This would not only help you request for a letter of recommendation but would also give you an overview of what a typical recommendation letter looks like. 

What is a letter of recommendation?

In your college application, your recommendation letter is one of the best ways for an admission officer to get to know you better.

Since your test scores and high school transcript are not entirely representative of who you are as a student, a recommendation letter would allow you to showcase your skills, talents, and unique personality to them. 

Apart from that, it can also serve as a document that would back your claim. 

For instance, if you wrote in your college application that you did apprenticeships for several people, then a recommendation letter from them would solidify your claim and prove your experience. 

This would give your application a one up over other students, and the admissions committee would surely take notice. 

So if you are vying for a scholarship or applying for a slot in a competitive school, then having a good recommendation letter can set you up for success. 

That being said, recommendation letter can either vary from:

Academic Achievement

This type of recommendation letter mostly contains academic experience and achievements you accomplished in school. It details a student academic record as well as the progress they have made over the past few years.

Let us look at this excerpt as an example

Jane distinguished herself by submitting an exceptionally well researched and interesting project on ethical practices in ancient Greece. I would rank her in the top 2% of students that I have taught in the past five years in respect of her writing ability and research skills.

Graduate Student Instructor, UC Berkely

Extracurricular Experience

This type of recommendation letter is a way to supplement and add color to your academic record. Since college admissions not only look at your grades or academic record, telling them about the extracurricular activities you have done rounds your application up. 

Let us look at this excerpt as an example

“Janet’s talents and motivations are not limited strictly to the lab, however. She is a young person who cares deeply about the social implications of science and who has demonstrated this conviction through several substantial internships.Working closing with a well-known local TV health correspondent, one of Janet’s internships involved producing news stories that pertained to health-related topics.

John A. Dutton e-Education Institute

Work Experience

This type of recommendation letter can beef up your college application as well. Whether you are applying for an undergraduate program or graduate school, illustrating your commitment or experience in a field makes your application more interesting and noteworthy. 

Let us look at this excerpt as an example

“I was so impressed with Student A’s work ethic and sense of responsibility that I invited her to serve as a teaching assistant last fall, and she went into that job with even greater enthusiasm and dedication. She made herself available to the students in the class, contributed to the curriculum and syllabus and achieved very high marks in the student evaluations at the end of the semester. She works diligently at three different jobs on campus, is active in several organizations, holding leadership positions in more than one of them, all while maintaining a solid GPA.”

Elon University

Who can give recommendation letters?

A recommendation letter is typically written by your

  • Teacher
  • Employer
  • School counselor
  • Mentor
  • Supervisor
  • Coach
  • Adviser
  • Principal
  • Faculty member
  • Department head
  • Any school authorities or other people you worked with 

You can also ask for recommendation letters from your friends and family. However, unless you worked for or with them, we highly recommend you to stick with the ones that we cited above.  

College admissions are mostly interested about your work ethic, intellectual capacity, and perseverance as a student. They do not necessarily need to know about your relationships with your friends or family members. 

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Who should you ask for a letter of recommendation?

Ideally, recommendation letters should come from people who know you well. 

Although it is nice to hear about your excellent academic record in the letter, it would be much better if the potential letter writers can further illustrate your strengths and other ideal student qualities. 

It would make your college application more interesting if they mention other things apart from your academic record. 

For example, they can mention your determination to learn a subject, great leadership in projects, curiosity for learning, capability to endure tough academic workload, dedication to master a skill, and many more. 

These may not exactly show your academic prowess, but it is important enough to be acknowledged and mentioned in your recommendation letter. 

That being said, you should take several factors into account before you ask for a recommendation letter. 

  • The potential letter writer needs to be willing to speak on your behalf
  • They should know you well enough (in school, work, training programs, etc.)
  • The writer should be able to make personal opinions about your ethics and character
  • You should be in good terms with them so that you can make sure that they do not write any personal attack against you
  • The writer should not be force to write a recommendation letter about you

When should you ask for a letter of recommendation?

The earlier you ask, the better. 

We highly recommend you to request for a recommendation letter at least one or two months before the deadline. 

This would give the writer enough time to write a great letter and review it a couple of times before sending it back to you. 

Apart from that, since your recommendation letter would probably come from your teacher, supervisor or a working adult with a lot of responsibility, they would surely appreciate it if you give them a longer timeline to work on. 

Keep in mind that you might not be the only one they are writing recommendation letters about. 

We created this timeline to better help you.

How do you start a formal letter of request?

Even though you are in good terms with your teachers or supervisors, it is still important to be professional and tactful when asking for a letter of recommendation.

That being said, you should draft several formal letters of request ahead of time so that you can just personalize or add a few lines when necessary.

We included a few formal letter of request from different universities to give you an idea of what it should look like

Generic Request Letter 

See example below

Dear (Professor, Dr., Mr., or Ms.) Higgins,

As part of the prerequisites for acceptance to (graduate school, the IUP honors track, etc.), I have been asked to provide a letter of recommendation. Would you be so kind as to write such a letter, with particular comments in regard to our past association in (the honors program, an internship, coursework, conference, etc.)?

The deadline for submitting the letter is (date), and if you are unable to provide a letter, please let me know by (one week from the date of this letter).

Thank you in advance for your time.

Regards,

Eliza Doolittle

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Specific Recommendation Request

See a more specific sample letter for a med school program

Date

Name and address of reference

Dear Dr. ____________:

I am beginning the process of applying to (medical school, dental school, optometry school, veterinary school etc.) and would like to request a letter of recommendation from you. Since taking your BIO xxxx course, I have completed my pre-med minor and have been working on a research project in the field of xxxxx.

In your letter, I would like you to focus on my academic abilities and leadership potential (include examples or other focus items). You may recall that I was the team leader for our project on xxxxx. Your letter will be included in my Health Professions file and become part of my composite letter of recommendation. Please make your letter as explicit and concrete as possible and give examples. You have my permission to include grades and/or class rank in your letter.

I have included a resume, which outlines my achievements, activities, and experiences. If you feel it would be helpful, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss this letter and my professional goals.

Please complete your letter by XXXX. Send an email copy of your letter to [email protected] and send a signed copy of your letter directly to the Health Professions Committee at:

Career Center

5748 Memorial Union

University of Maine

Orono, ME 04469-5748

Thank you for willingness to write this letter or recommendation.

Sincerely,

Your Name

University of Maine

How many letters of recommendation can you ask for?

College admission usually requires two or three recommendation letters from people who know you. 

In that case, we recommend you to list and ask at least five people to write a recommendation letter for you. 

This way, you would have at least two back up if the other people decline your request. 

The rule of thumb is to never assume that your teachers or supervisors would always be willing to write a recommendation letter about you. 

You should give them enough time to decide whether they would want to write a recommendation letter about you or not. 

If they decide to deny your request, do not take it to heart and try to understand that they may have significant reasons why they deny your request. 

Keep in mind that your teachers or supervisors are under no obligation to write a positive letter about you. 

So you should carefully choose who you want to write your recommendation letter.

How do you follow up a letter of recommendation after no response?

As we have pointed out above, it is important to reach out to your professors or supervisors as early as possible. 

This way, you would have an ample amount of time to follow-up on them, or in the worst case scenario, reach out to another set of people to write your recommendation letter. 

When following up with the potential recommendation writer, there are unwritten rules or certain etiquettes that you need to follow. 

For instance, you cannot expect them to respond to your request immediately and you cannot harass or force them to write back to you. 

Having said that, we highly suggest you to wait at least a week before sending out a follow-up email. 

You can send out a follow up email just like this one from the Press 

Dear Dr. ___________,

About a week ago, I sent you a request to write a letter of recommendation for me. I am hopeful that you will be able to support my candidacy for (medical school, dental school, optometry school, veterinary school etc). If you would find it helpful, to meet in person, I would be happy to do so. The deadline for submitting your letter is XXXX. If this is a problem, please let me know.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing more from you.

Sincerely,

Your Name

University of Maine

As you wait for their response, it might be best to start listing another set of people who you can reach out to and write your recommendation letter. 

So when the initial group of people decline your request, you can immediately send a formal letter request to another set of people. 

This way, you can facilitate the process and not miss any external or internal deadline. 

How long should a recommendation letter be?

The quality of the recommendation letter is what matters the most. As long as it is well-written and submitted through the right system or process, admission officers would gladly read it. 

So whether it is a two-page or more recommendation letter, they would still consider it as part of your college admission requirement. 

To give you an idea of what a recommendation letter would look like, we have cited a few letters from different university archives

Generic Recommendation Letter

Let us look at this generic template below

“I am writing in support of X to . . . . I have known X since September, 2006. He was a member of a small . . . tutorial that I taught in 2006-2007. . . . X was an active and conscientious member of the class. He challenged the rest of the class to consider issues from new perspectives and often asked very penetrating and important questions. He chose to take on difficult topics and handled them well. His assignments were well-written, well-supported, organized, neat, and timely. It was evident that X really desired to learn more and challenge himself. . . .

X also has interest outside of academics. He has been an active member of . . . , a university singing group, and a member of the campus . . . club. He is also a member of the . . . House film society. X’s personality is wonderful. He is outgoing and friendly, but not dominating. He has an obvious and sincere concern for others. . . .

X would be a wonderful student to have at . . . . He has skills that he is eager to share, but he is just as eager to learn. . . . I feel very confident that he will be extremely successful in all his future endeavors. He is a focused and determined young man. I highly recommend him for . . . .”

Pace University

Tailored Recommendation Letter

Let us look at this excerpt as an example

I am writing in enthusiastic support of Janet Lerner for an internship. I have known Janet since she was a student in my course in Synoptic and Dynamic Meteorology last fall. Janet distinguished herself in my course by receiving the highest grade in the class. But this accomplishment only scratches the surface of her ability and character. Janet is the type of person who loves learning. She’s one of those rare people who works very hard and diligently, but does so with a smile on her face. She constantly strives for excellence in meteorology, but Janet does not let her thirst for knowledge rule her life. She is a scientific humanist, with a genuine caring for others. It should come as no surprise that Janet is well-liked and admired by her peers. 

Janet’s knowledge of the intricacies of how the atmosphere works was unrivaled in my course, allowing her to easily win a competitive class forecasting contest. Janet is also a leader, holding a position in the Campus Weather Service, a student-run organization that provides weather information to radio stations across five states. 

I know first-hand that Janet performs with aplomb in challenging situations. I was in the Weather Station one day while Janet was conducting a tour for parents and their young daughters. The president of Mythic University happened to be in the group—an intimidating presence to most undergraduates—but Janet handled herself with a polished confidence, attending to audience questions about meteorology in a clear, friendly, unaffected manner. 

John A. Dutton e-Education Institute

How do you submit your letters of recommendation?

The submission of the recommendation letters varies for different schools. 

Some colleges or universities would just simply ask the recommendation writer to upload it in their website while others need to be mailed in and delivered at the school address. 

With that, it is important to decide on the college you want to apply first before reaching out to potential letter writers. 

This way, you would have an ample amount of time to do research about the schools’ admission process and deadlines. 

Conclusion

It is important to know that a recommendation letter is not just applicable in the academic setting. After you graduate from college, a recommendation letter would still come in handy.

With that, we hope you find some of these tips and examples we compiled helpful.

We cover a few important topics and subjects in this guide such as

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Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students design the life of their dreams by ensuring college, scholarship, and career success! I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, host of a career exploration podcast for teens, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. I invite you to join my next webinar to learn how to save thousands + set your teenager up for college, scholarship, and career success!
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