How to Get the Best Letters of Recommendation

When you’re applying to college, a lot of your attention goes into writing the personal essay, and testing. However, that is only part of the process, the other crucial part is the letters of recommendation. Yes, essays give you a chance to reflect your personality and capacity for independent thought, and the tests -if required by your college- showcase your academic knowledge but you should strive to get letters of recommendation from people who can speak highly of your independent thinking without being blinded by your extracurriculars or family network. Here are some things to keep in mind when asking for the best letters of recommendation:

Be clear about what you want

It’s easy to write a letter of recommendation that praises your friend’s talents while ignoring your own strengths. You want to make sure you set clear expectations with your recommenders. You may also want to include a short paragraph in which you explain your intentions for the letters of recommendation and what you hope to get out of it. Some schools or programs require a specific letter that focuses on specific topics. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to end up with a less useful letter. A teacher’s letter of recommendation provides insight into your academic performance. You should request letters from teachers who know you best and with whom you have formed good relationships. The admissions committee uses these letters as a tool to gain insight into what type of student you are, how you perform under pressure, and what obstacles you have overcome.

Explain why you need a letter

This is probably the most important thing to remember when asking for letters of recommendation. You want your recommenders to write a letter that explains why they think you are great, not just because you’re a good student. You may want to explain in the letter why you want to attend a certain graduate program. This may help explain your decision-making and also show the recommenders how your interests can be applied to your graduate studies. Some schools have specific recommenders you can request. If so, you may have to explain the degree to which your recommenders can help you with the admissions committee. You may also want to explain in the letter what you accomplished during the course of your studies. This could help show the admissions committee why you are a great candidate.

Make Your Requests

It’s important to note that it is 100% YOUR (the student’s) responsibility to request letters of recommendation from your teachers. Occasionally a teacher will offer to write one for you, but don’t assume this will happen or that any teacher will send a letter without you first making a request. You are also responsible for ensuring that all letters of recommendation are submitted and received by each college’s mandated deadline. You should request recommendations from at least two teachers – one from a math or science teacher and one from an English or history teacher. After you secure these, you may request additional letters from your department chair or a professor who you think would be willing to write a letter for you.   


Asking for letters of recommendation can be challenging, especially when you don’t know who to ask or what you need from the letters. You can find some help with this process by asking your college counselor.

If you don’t have a resume, now is the time to create one! You need to submit one with your college applications and you can share it with the teachers who are writing your letters of recommendation.

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