Letters of Recommendation: Making the Job Easier

letters of recommendation
Photo by Scott Graham

Most students know that getting letters of recommendation is part of the college application process. Many students, however, don’t quite know how to approach their teachers, counselor, and other recommenders (such as the head of a non-profit organization where you volunteer, a coach, or an employer).  They know that teachers and counselors are going to be inundated by requests from other students and, therefore, they need to be asked in a way that’s going to get a positive response.

While it may seem obvious, the first thing to do is make sure that you’re asking people who know you the best and are likely to write very positive things about you.  If you’ve done very well in a course or developed a close relationship with a teacher, then he or she might be a good choice.

If there is someone for whom you did an outstanding job in a volunteer group, that is someone to consider asking for an outside recommendation.  If your coach has said that you’re one of the hardest-working kids he’s ever worked with, he or she might be another good choice.

Be sure to give recommenders all of the material they need to write the Letters of Recommendation.

  • If you haven’t already done so, make sure you’ve put together an activities resume, which summarizes what you’ve done throughout high school.
  • Give your recommenders a list of all the colleges to which you plan to apply, including when the due dates are.
  • Make sure that your counselor and teachers receive the forms they need with the top portion filled out by you.
  • Finally, give the recommenders a stamped envelope with the names of each college written on them (if they won’t be using online forms). You want to do their job of recommending you an easy thing to do.

Getting all of your letters of recommendation written and to the different colleges can take some time. So it is useful to begin identifying and developing relationships with teachers you might want to write recommendations during your sophomore and junior years.  You should also do whatever you can to establish a personal relationship with your high school counselor. He or she will be writing the Secondary School Report for you.

To be on top of the recommendation process, at the end of your junior year, ask the teachers from whom you want recommendations if they would be willing to complete Teacher Evaluation forms in the fall. Since summer is a somewhat less hectic time for many teachers, some take that time to write recommendations. If you didn’t ask before the summer, as early as possible in your senior year, ask the recommenders to write your recommendations.

Finally, after you have turned in your application, check with the colleges to make sure all of your recommendations have been received. If no, then get back to the counselor, teachers, and/or others to let them know that their recommendations are missing and that you would appreciate their sending them in asap.  And don’t forget to thank them.

Whatever you can do to make your recommender’s job easier will be highly appreciated and is likely to be reflected in the level of enthusiasm that they display in their recommendations.