FAQs About Requesting Letters of Recommendation

Grades, test scores, an essay and lists of activities and awards will tell selection committees a lot, but they won’t show how others view you. That’s why most colleges ask for letters of recommendation. Some schools leave the choice of recommenders open, while others require a letter from teachers of certain subjects, a guidance counselor, an employer or others.

Here are frequently asked questions and answers about requesting recommendations:

Whom Should I Ask?

If you have a choice, ask someone who knows your academic abilities and accomplishments very well.

Ideally, the person would also know you outside of class, perhaps as an advisor to a club in which you’ve played a leadership role. (Don’t ask a coach unless he or she can also address academics.)

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Make sure your recommender is someone with current or recent knowledge of you, not a teacher you had freshman or sophomore year.

When Should I Ask Them?

Give recommenders at least a month before the college’s deadline, and tell them what that deadline is.

Ideally, ask teacher recommenders in the spring of junior year, so they have the summer to write. (This timing is especially important if you’re applying for Early Decision or Early Action.)

Check on their progress a week or so before the deadline.

What Do They Need From Me?

Make it easy for your recommenders by putting together a packet containing:

  • The name of the college and some background, so they can write about why you are a good match
  • A resume or a brief listing of grades, activities, awards, community service, special talents and skills
  • The name of the person to whom the letter should go, or “Dear Selection Committee” if you don’t know a name
  • An addressed, stamped envelope. If the letter must be sent in an official envelope from your school or the recommender’s place of business, supply postage.
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Do I Get to Read What They Wrote?

You can—but you shouldn’t. You have a legal right to read what someone says about you, but experts say waiving that right on the application will give your recommendation more credibility

Do I Have to Do Anything After the Letters Are Sent?

Write thank-you notes to all your recommenders. Write second ones if you get in!