Sometimes it can feel awkward to ask for a letter of recommendation from your teacher, coach, guidance counselor, or employer—even though it really shouldn’t.
But because some universities ask you to include one-to-three letters of recommendation from people who know your academic, employment, or volunteer history, you may just have to bite the bullet and reach out to someone to talk you up on your behalf.
If you’ve known the letter writer for a long time and have a close relationship with them—say, your favorite biology teacher or the same tennis coach you’ve had since you were 10—we recommend just speaking from the heart when asking them to advocate for you.
But if your relationship to your letter writer isn’t so close—say, your 12th grade calculus teacher who really made you earn that A—it can help to follow a template of how to ask.
Like, say, the one below.
Step One: Ask (and you’ll likely receive.)
It seems obvious, but the best thing you can do when approaching someone to write a letter of recommendation for you is to just ask. Hang back after class or practice, mention that you’re applying to college and need a letter of recommendation, and ask if they’d be interested in writing one for you. They get this request all the time, so it’s not going to come as a big surprise that you are asking.
The key thing is not to hit them upfront with deadlines, talking points, requirements, or delivery methods. Just ask if they’re willing to do it. (We bet they’ll say yes.)
If they agree, let them know you’ll follow up with them about the details. This will give them time to start thinking about what they want to say.
They might say no—they could be busy, or they may not feel they’re familiar enough with your academic or work history to speak for you. If they happen to say no, be sure to thank them anyway, and try not to dwell on why they declined.
Step Two: Do the legwork for them.
It’s your letter writers’ job to help tell your story to the admissions team. It’s your job to help them do that.
Once they’ve agreed to write a letter for you, follow up with them in a day or two with the information they’ll need to get it done. This includes:
- Deadlines (don’t forget postage dates, if they’re sending by mail)
- Delivery method (by mail, electronically, or a service like Interfolio)
- Names and addresses of the schools on your list
- Envelope and postage (if they’re sending it through the mail)
You can also offer to provide them with details about projects, awards, scholarships, competitions, or other accomplishments if they need it—but we don’t recommend sending them off with a list of talking points. Let them brag for you.
Step Three: Remind them—gently.
You want to give your letter writers plenty of advance warning—at least a couple of weeks, if not a month or more. Remember, they have lives and responsibilities of their own, and you’re probably not the only person asking them for a letter.
As your deadlines approach, gently inquire about their progress, remind them of the due date, and offer to help with any additional information they might need. See our diagram below on how to not be a pest:
Do: “Just wanted to check if you need anything from me for my recommendation letter before it’s due on April 1, two weeks from now.”
Don’t: “My letter is due tomorrow. Are you done yet?!
Step Four: Thank them.
Once your letter writers have finished, it’s considered professional (not to mention polite) to send them a simple thank you card, letting them know you appreciate their time and effort to help you on your college journey.
Besides, when applying to college, it never hurts to earn a little good karma.
Follow these steps and requesting letters of recommendation will be a breeze. Keep in mind that not every school requires them (including IPFW), though you may soon find yourself requesting letters for scholarships, internships, or even graduate school.