How to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation

Ginger Abbot

Mar 14, 2022
How to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation

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Applying for college is a multi-step process that includes getting a letter of recommendation. Most universities require at least one and some require a few more. Students can learn how to make letter of recommendation requests by reading these commonly asked questions and helpful tips.

Recommendation letters are an opportunity for someone to vouch for your academic abilities, skills, and character so the application board members get to know you better. A well-crafted letter will make you jump off the page and become more competitive in a sea of applicants. Every student must take this step seriously and get the best letter possible to boost their chances of getting accepted at their top universities.

What Is a Letter of Recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a written statement regarding a student’s ability to learn, bond with their community, and thrive as an individual. It can mean more to a college application board because they get to hear from someone who knows you and has seen you in action, rather than just reading a student’s test scores.

Universities want to accept students who will do well in their classrooms and fit in with their college community. Higher education students should give back to their campus by getting involved with groups and taking on leadership positions in addition to attending classes.

Recommendation letters prove that applicants already do those things in their hometown because the people who write those letters are leaders in those students’ lives. They may have also known the student for many years, which helps the letter have more standing with an application board.

Who Should You Ask?

When someone submits a letter of recommendation request, they’re also asking for a character reference. The letter will outline their best attributes and explain why they’re an outstanding citizen in and out of the classroom. Universities need their students to excel in their classes, but they also want young people who will start clubs, volunteer in the community, and make the campus a better place for the students who come after them.

The best people to gauge these qualities without bias will be a student’s teachers, bosses, team leaders, or volunteer coordinators. They’re in positions of authority that get to know each student without preexisting bias clouding their judgment.

Students should avoid people like their family members when considering who to ask for recommendation letters. Anyone could get a glowing review from the people who love them most in the world. Parents and extended family members also won’t be first-hand witnesses to a student’s abilities at school or in a job setting, which universities want to know.

When a student is unsure about asking a specific person, it’s always wise to move on to someone else. The hesitation likely comes from feeling too much of a personal connection with that individual. Application boards will quickly reject any letters and applications from sources with bias.

When Should You Ask?

Students should only start making recommendation requests after picking their top colleges. They’ll need to know the deadlines for each application, which changes for different schools. After noting the final deadline for application documents, find out how many letters each university requires.

There are a few other things to consider before requesting a reference letter. By the time students start applying to colleges, they should complete a career-oriented internship to build their skillsets. Internships also prove that each student is passionate about what they’ll study at their future universities, which application boards want from potential students.

It’s also essential for every student to update their resume. Unless the selected teacher or supervisor knows the student personally, they’ll need an accurate resume to expand on each quality that they’ll write about in their letter. Add extracurricular activities like part-time jobs, sports, and clubs to exemplify the innovative spirit that universities want in their student body.

After students have built an impressive resume through internships and other opportunities, they should give their recommendation letter requests at least two months ahead of their due dates. Each person writing a letter will be a working professional with a busy schedule, so they’ll need to find time to sit down and write something thoughtful.

Tips for Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

Sometimes students feel unsure about how to ask for a letter of recommendation. It can feel awkward, especially if they don’t know what the letter should contain. These are a few tips anyone can use to make the process easier.

Make a List of People You Want to Ask

Students actively involved in their school and community will have a long list of potential people to ask for recommendation letters. Create a list and fill out names for people like:

  • Teachers
  • Coaches
  • Guidance counselors
  • Managers
  • Religious leaders
  • Volunteer supervisors

People in those positions see how each student overcomes obstacles, faces adversity, and rises to challenges in various fields. They’ll also see how young people transform into leaders and demonstrate their greatest passions. Application boards need examples of these things to learn about applicants beyond their exam scores.

Ask Early and Try to Ask In-Person First

When students aren’t not daydreaming about their graduation parties, they should schedule visits to make their recommendation requests in person. It’s more meaningful, so it shows each person in a leadership position that the student takes their application seriously. It’s also a way to preemptively thank them for their time because each student gives up some of theirs.

Send a Formal Email Request

Chatting about a letter request is a great place to start, but it’s also helpful to send a formal request. When the person sits down at their computer, they’ll see the email as a reminder of the previous conversation. They can then schedule a time to write the letter or ask follow-up questions as needed. 

Anyone who’s unsure about how to write a formal request can model their message after a recommendation request template that features a professional tone and structure. Use it as practice for writing formal emails in future jobs.

Follow Up With the Writer

The people who agree to write recommendation letters may lose track of time because of other responsibilities. It’s always wise for students to follow up with them and ask if they need anything. They may forget to ask for more explanation about certain parts of the student’s resume or schedule purposeful writing time.

Send a Thank You Note

After submitting the finished applications, every student should send thank you notes to the people who wrote letters. It’s a heartfelt way to thank them for their time and effort. Find creative cards in local stores and pen why you’re specifically grateful before presenting the card within a month of the application deadline.

Recommendation Request Template

Anyone who needs a recommendation request template can use the following guide to craft their emails or structure an in-person conversation.

Recommendation Request Email Template

This is a basic email template. Students should fill in the brackets with information specific to their lives and academic history. It will also need deadlines accurate to whichever college will receive the finished letter.

Dear [Mr./Ms.],

I hope this letter email finds you well. I’m currently filling out an application for [university name] and wondered if you would be open to writing a letter of recommendation for me.

I greatly value the time I’ve spent with you as [your relationship or professional relationship to the recommender]. While you’ve been my [teacher, manager, coach, etc.], I’ve learned so much. [Write a sentence or two about how they’ve taught skills that will help you in college or your career.]

You are one of the best people to vouch for my [qualifications, skills, etc.]. [University name] wants students who will give back to their community and become engaged with their student life opportunities, which I can do using the skills you’ve taught me.

If you’re interested, the deadline for submitting a recommendation letter is [date and time]. I’ve attached the latest copy of my resume as well. It contains academic and professional achievements that have helped me become the person I am today.

The university also requires that each letter contain [specific information that the university needs in each recommendation letter], which I’ve outlined below. You can submit the letter by [steps to submit the letter].

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


[Student’s name]

Recommendation Request Conversation Template

It’s more challenging to structure a conversation because they happen in real-time, but anyone who’s anxious about requesting a letter can rehearse their request by working through the following points.

Reference the Relationship

Traditional request emails start by reminding the potential recommender of the existing relationship they have with the student. The individual likely mentors numerous young people through their academic or professional standing, so mentioning specific examples will refresh their memory of the shared history.

Students can bring this up by thanking the individual for their leadership and how talking about how much it means to have them in their lives.

Request the Letter

Follow the start of the conversation with a gentle request for the letter of recommendation. Everything mentioned previously will be the foundation for why that individual is the perfect person to write the letter.

Offer Helpful Documents

The recommender may shy away from the idea of crafting a letter because they can’t think of anything to say on the spot. Students should always mention that they have a prepared resume to send for reference. Providing materials detailing your skills and experience is the best way to get someone to agree to write an in-depth letter.

Ask for Questions

If the person agrees to write the letter, ask if they have any questions. They may ask for basic information on the spot, like when they’ll need to submit their letter and how long it should be.

Mention a Follow-Up Email

Answer all of their questions while the conversation is happening, then finish by mentioning that you’ll address them all again in a follow-up email. People who write recommendation letters need written copies of deadlines and submission requirements from each university, so sending an email containing the information makes the process much easier for everyone involved.

Get a Letter of Recommendation

It’s exciting to finally start looking into college application requirements. It means that adulthood and the college experience are within reach, but every student will need recommendation letters to get there.

These tips should answer any questions about how the process works and what students need from the people who write each letter. If any problems arise, remember that communication is key. Remain available for potential questions and follow up with reminder emails to keep your applications on track.

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