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How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation (Template Included!)

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This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

So, the time has finally come for you to begin the application process to the colleges of your choice. However, as you might soon find out, some of the colleges may require you to provide a letter of recommendation(s)

Once you have decided who to ask, you have to ask them. But how exactly do you go about doing so?

While a general rule of thumb is that it’s best to ask in person, I’ll show you how to write an amazing recommendation letter request. You can also follow this general guideline if you decide to ask your teacher face-to-face.

Introduce yourself

First off, introduce yourself! Even if you were a charismatic student in their class that they are sure to remember, a brief reminder doesn’t hurt. Especially if you were more of a quiet student (like me), then this introduction is super important. Remember that they have many other students besides you. 

So, take a moment to say hello. Tell them your name, what class and period you took with them, and when you took the class. This could look something like:

My name is ______ and I took your (2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.) period (physics, art, calc, etc.) class this year.

You should always be clear and concise when you write. Don’t waste the teacher’s time by rambling on about something unrelated and get straight to the point (respectfully).

Give an update

Depending on when you are requesting this letter, the content of the “update” section may vary. In general, the goal of this section is to show the teacher what you have been doing to grow your skills, mindset, hobbies, etc. Take this chance to show some of your passions or what you have been working on since you took their class.

For instance, if you are writing this letter over the summer after you have completed their course, tell that teacher what you have been doing throughout your break. Make sure to wish them well on their break as well.

This section could look something like:

I hope your summer has been going well so far and that you have had an opportunity to do some things you enjoy. I always enjoy summer because it allows me to spend more time with my family and I hope you have been able to spend quality time with your loved ones as well. As for me, I have been keeping myself busy by doing_______. 

As a quick side note, if you are asking for the recommendation letter in person, it might be better to skip this part. As I mentioned earlier, it is best to be simple and concise.

While in a letter this is likely viewed as just an update (because it does not permit for a response), in person, this would likely be an invitation to an unrelated conversation. Ultimately, it is up to you but keep in mind to always respect your teacher’s time. 

Ask for their recommendation

Now, it is time to ask that teacher for the letter of recommendation. It is your big moment. Always remember to be respectful when asking.

The most important thing you should remember when you are asking for that letter (whether in person or email) is to stress that you are requesting a STRONG letter of recommendation.

This does two things. One, it gives the teacher a way out. If they feel that they cannot write you a strong enough letter, then they can more easily say no. Or, maybe they are willing to write you one but do not feel qualified enough to write you a strong letter. 

The other thing that requesting a strong letter does is it creates clear guidelines on what you are asking for. Of course, the teacher already knows what the recommendation letter is. But, by asking for a strong one, you appear to be more prepared and knowledgeable.

So, keeping this in mind, briefly explain your college application process. Maybe you will note that you are applying to X, Y, and Z schools and they all require a recommendation letter from a trusted teacher. This gives your teachers some background for the premise of your request.

Then, ask the question. As you will see with the example at the end of this section, make sure to stress if they are willing and able to write you a recommendation letter.

Maybe they have already had other students approach them about writing a letter. In this case, even if they were willing to write you a letter, they might not be able to. Be clear on these conditions.

After you pop the question, quickly follow up with some supporting information. Tell your teacher about a specific example of something you really enjoyed learning in their class or a particularly prominent memory that stands out. This shows your teacher that you paid attention and were a good student.

Lastly, give a quick explanation to the teacher you are asking as to why you chose them. Maybe you built up a connection with them outside of the classroom. Perhaps you were always involved in classroom discussions. Persuade them even further with this last sentence.

Here’s what a sample template for asking the question might look like:

As you might be aware, the Common App opened on _____. I will be applying to _______ colleges using this and I was wondering if you would be willing and able to write me a strong letter of recommendation? I really appreciate everything I learned in your class from _______. Out of all the teachers I’ve had, I think you know me best.

Tips To Gather Stellar Recommendation Letters

Create a resume/additional information to send

Even though you have asked the question, you are not done yet. After you do so, the next step is to offer some additional information about yourself in the form of a resume. As much as your teachers might know you, a resume provides an even more complete picture of you.

If you do not have a resume yet, then this is a great chance to take the moment to create one. One thing I suggest you include on this resume is some additional information that gives a more complete picture of you.

These can be small things that you might not necessarily think are important but give insight into your character. For instance, you might write that you try to cook a dish from a new culture every week. Or, you could write that you love teaching others how to lift weights.

As you can see, these things do not necessarily fit in on a resume, but they add to your character and tell a more complete story about your personality and passions. I have found that adding a quick bullet point list at the end of the resume is a great way to include this information.

So, when you offer to provide them a resume, you might want to consider following the template as follows:

If you do agree to write me a letter of recommendation, I will email you some additional information about myself as well as my list of colleges that require the letter and their deadlines. 

When asking through an email, also make sure to ask what email they would like you to write down on the application if they say yes. Students are not usually allowed to see the recommendation letter. For this reason, the teacher usually must provide their email so they can submit the recommendation letter themselves.

Thank them and keep in touch

Once you have completed your request, make sure you thank them for their time and offer to keep in touch. Open up avenues of communication by telling them how they can contact you (email, phone, etc.) and that you hope to hear from them soon.

If you are asking in person, you will of course know the answer to your question right away. Regardless of what the answer is, make sure to thank your teacher no matter what.

If they say no

So, what happens if they say no? Don’t worry. Stop and take a moment. Don’t blame yourself. Usually, the reason a teacher says no is not your fault.

Maybe they already have too many students’ letters to write. Maybe they feel like they do not know you well enough to write you the recommendation letter you deserve. Perhaps they are overwhelmed with other duties. There are so many outside factors to consider in the pain of rejection.

But it’s okay. You are a great person and student. It’s not your fault they said no. Thank them for their time and consideration and move forward.

If they say yes

If your recommender does say yes, hooray! Now, it is up to you to make the process as easy as possible for your recommender. Send them your resume, and help clarify anything that they might need help with.

If you ask in person and they say yes, take this moment to clarify what email you should use to enter in the application. As mentioned previously, the schools will ask for the email of your recommender rather than the letter itself.

Be very clear with deadlines and recommendation letter criteria (if there are some). Do not assume that your recommender knows everything; tell them every piece of relevant information. 

Make sure you check in occasionally throughout the writing process to see how they are doing. Also, maintain your relationship with that teacher. Just because they said yes does not mean you can now completely ignore them. Nurture that relationship that you worked so hard to build up.

When they finally finish writing your letter and submit it, make sure to email or drop by again to thank them for the huge favor they did for you. To make it even more sincere, you may consider giving them a gift card to Amazon or their favorite coffee shop, some flowers, or another useful and meaningful gift. This further shows your gratitude. 

Additional things to consider

There are some other fine details you should consider when asking for your recommendation letter.

If you are asking through an email, make sure you title the subject of the email clearly. Let them know right away that you are asking for a recommendation letter. Something like: Request for Recommendation Letter is a great subject line. 

Right away, they know exactly what the letter is about and they do not have to go digging inside your email to find out why you are writing. Do not waste their time and be clear in the subject line. 

Writing a more vague subject line to hide the question until they read the email might seem like a great idea, but if your subject line is unclear, they may not view that email as a priority.

“Request for Recommendation Letter” sounds like something that should be prioritized much more than an email titled “Summer Check in and Request.” Do you see the difference? Which email would you read first?

Another thing to consider is which teacher you are going to ask. When pondering this question, try to consider teachers that can best speak on your behalf. Choose instructors who best know you, both inside and outside of the classroom. Stick to this rule even if the best teacher is not in your intended major.

If you plan to major in Computer Science but have a great connection with your US History teacher, then ask the history teacher. It is much better to receive a strong recommendation letter from someone outside your intended major than a weak and general letter from a teacher within your intended major.

One last thing to think about is that you can ask people other than teachers for recommendation letters. Anyone from sports coaches, pastors, managers and so many others are perfect candidates for your recommendation letter.

In fact, these people provide insight into your life outside of school, and their letter can be a great addition to a recommendation letter from a teacher. 

If you follow the tips I listed above, you are sure to receive a positive response from your recommender. As long as you are clear, concise, and respectful, no matter what the outcome, you will leave a good impression on the person you are requesting the letter from.

What’s even better is that this is the one area of the college application you do not have to write! So once you have someone agree to write your letter, take your mind off of this part of your application.

Good luck!

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Author: Sophia

Sophia is a current college freshman at Pennsylvania State University with plans to major in marketing. When she's not studying or in the gym, you can find Sophia watching her favorite Youtube channels or streamers. In the future, she hopes to travel the world while developing her marketing skills and building her network.