Letters of Recommendation for College Admission

Along with your outstanding resume, glowing transcript, and eloquent essay, it's likely that the colleges to which you are applying will ask for one or more letters of recommendation. While getting these letters may seem like an easy task, it's something that should be treated seriously. You'll want letters from professionals who know you well - the last thing you need is a generic letter from someone who had to ask you your last name. To make sure your reference letters will play a positive role in helping you earn an undergraduate degree, follow the guidelines below.

Who:

  • One thing you should really think about is who you want to provide you with letters of recommendation. Often, colleges may specify who the letters should be written by (guidance counselors, teachers, etc.), but it's up to you to choose the individual you will approach for a letter of recommendation.
  • There are a few people that you definitely should not use as references. They include people you don't know, immediate family members, and any relatives. Obviously, your mother will give you a good recommendation, but those in charge of admissions probably won't take her letter very seriously. If you approach someone you don't know, on the other hand, you can't be sure they will give you a positive letter of reference.
  • If you have followed the suggestions presented in this prep guide, you will already have developed a good relationship with one or more teachers at your school. Approach the one you feel knows the most about your character and strengths (and would give you the best recommendation), and ask them whether they would be willing to write you a letter. If they seem hesitant, don't force the issue. Instead, approach another individual you think would give you a positive and informed recommendation.

When:

  • Remember, the teacher you ask to write your letter will likely have other students approaching them as well. In addition, they may be quite busy with exams, report cards, and personal commitments at certain times of the year. Ask them at least six to eight weeks before the letter is due if they would be willing to write it for you. That way, they'll have time to really focus on the task and do a great job.
  • Some teachers may be so busy when you approach them that they will ask you to prepare a rough draft of your recommendation letter. This is an excellent opportunity - and one that should be gracefully accepted. This will give you a chance to focus on those aspects you hope will be covered in the final letter, and if you are extremely lucky, the teacher writing your letter of recommendation may decide to leave most of it intact.

How:

  • The educator writing the letter for you is doing you a favor, and you should make the task as easy as possible for them. When you approach them, tell them which type of program you are applying for so they have an idea of what to focus on in their letter. In addition, give them a copy of your resume and a list outlining your academic and non-academic accomplishments. Provide specifics to the teacher writing your letter of recommendation. The teacher can refer to your specific accomplishments when deciding what to include in the contents of the letter.
  • Stay in touch with your recommender. Provide a telephone number or email address where they can reach you quickly if they need any additional information or clarification. Inform your recommender of the timeframe in which you plan to send your application. That way, they can ensure their letter is put in the mail at about the same time. Better yet, offer to mail the sealed envelope for them. Your college will receive all application materials at around the same time, reducing the potential for mix-ups.
  • Keep letters sealed. As long as you are confident your recommender has said positive things about you, there is no need to review the letter. Keep in mind that sealed letters are often looked upon more favorably by admissions departments. If time is short, consider sending by registered, priority, or express mail.
  • Your recommender will probably provide their contact information on their letter, but you should also include their phone number somewhere on your application. That way, the admissions department can contact them quickly and easily if necessary.
  • Take care of the little details for your recommender. Find out how many copies of the letter must be sent. Give your preferred teacher enough stamped, addressed envelopes, and provide the complete contact information for the person who will be reviewing the letter. Make the process as convenient as possible for the people writing your letters of recommendation.
  • Finally, send your recommenders a thank-you note to express your gratitude. It won't help you get into college, but it is the courteous thing to do after they have so graciously provided you with their help.

Sample Letter of Recommendation

Last Updated: 04/24/2014

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