Why are recommendations important? Recommendation letters will usually speak about a student’s character, personality, work ethic, and anything else that is not easily reflected in test scores or transcripts. They also show who is willing to speak on your behalf and advocate for you. Colleges use these recommendations to make sure that you will fit in with the overall culture on their campus.
Who to Ask
Most colleges require between one and three recommendations from adults who can speak to your performance in school, work, or your extracurricular activities. Read each of your college applications carefully as schools often ask for letters of recommendation from an academic teacher — sometimes in a specific subject — or a school counselor or both. You could also ask a teacher, coach, supervisor, mentor or church leader. Be sure to ask someone who knows you well and can comment on your work ethic and character, among other personal qualities. Do not ask a family member for a recommendation.
When to Ask
It is important to ask for recommendations early. If you are in 11th grade, consider asking for your recommendations in the spring, so that your teachers have the summer to work on your letter. If you are a senior, ask as early as possible to avoid the rush of college application season, when many students will be asking for last minute recommendations!
How to Ask
It is best to ask for recommendations in person, as a sign of commitment to your application, and respect for the person recommending you. Make sure to thank those who recommended you by giving them a thank you note. Print out any forms your recommenders may need, or provide them with clear instructions for completing online forms. It is also helpful to provide a list of accomplishments or activities that you think your recommender should mention. If the college asks for paper recommendations, provide a stamped and addressed envelope to the person completing a recommendation.
Check out these resources for more help:
Big Future outlines in detail the recommendation letter process and how to get a great one.
You can also visit Shmoop’s page on “Everything You Need to Know about Recommendation Letters.”