Six Musts When Requesting Recommendation Letters

By Huntington Learning Center

At some point in your teen’s life, it’s likely that he will need to request a letter of recommendation. Many top-tier colleges and universities require or strongly encourage applicants to submit such letters. Or, your teen might need one for a scholarship, internship or pre-college program application.

These letters can seriously bolster your teen as a candidate, so it’s important to take them seriously. Huntington offers a few essential guidelines for requesting recommendation letters:

  1. Build relationships. Before teens even get to the point where they need letters of recommendation, they should work on cultivating good relationships with teachers and superiors. That means being engaged in class, being a good classmate or teammate, and giving all endeavors, from school to extracurricular activities to part-time jobs, their very best effort.
  2. Ask the right person/people. It’s imperative that students request letters from appropriate teachers/mentors. They should ask individuals who know them well enough to speak to their academic performance, character and willingness to persevere in the face of adversity. High school students should avoid asking for recommendation letters from the teacher who doesn’t know them very well or the guidance counselor they’ve only visited once during high school. Also, it’s important to pay attention to the guidelines offered by the college (or scholarship or other organization), as the committee reviewing applications might want the writer to focus on certain traits, such as the student’s communication or critical thinking skills.
  3. Give some background. Many teachers/coaches/mentors are willing to write recommendation letters, but students shouldn’t assume those people know everything about them. They have lots of other students, after all. When requesting the letter, students should provide a resume if they have one (or a list of their accomplishments and activities) and a little background that the teacher might not know, such as their career plans or personal background.
  4. Allow plenty of time. Teachers and other recommenders are busy people and will likely receive requests from other students too. They need time to think about and write every letter requested of them. Giving notice is a good idea, and the earlier the better. Students might even consider making a “soft request” via email to confirm the teacher/other individual is willing before following up with a more formal request after they agree to the task (with all of the aforementioned details). Again, students should make sure the teacher has the application deadline (and recommendation letter, if different).
  5. Share any specific guidelines. Students can make things easier on the teacher/counselor/other individual that they ask by providing a rundown of the guidelines of the letter of recommendation. They should also include the application deadline and the website where the letter should be submitted or the address where the letter should be mailed.
  6. Be appreciative. Last and certainly not least, high school students should write thank-you notes or emails to the people who write letters of recommendation for them. Doing so shows their professionalism and appreciation and can help strengthen those relationships for the future.

There’s an art to requesting recommendation letters. Encourage your teen to take this seriously, as arming those individuals from which they request letters with all the right information will result in a well-written letter that articulates your teen’s best assets.


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