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Tips for Choosing the Right Person for a College Letter of Recommendation

By Huntington Learning Center

Summer before senior year is a great time for college-bound students to request letters of recommendation. It gives the people students choose plenty of time to write a letter about them, and enough time for students to assemble their application packages in the fall when school resumes.

But there is an art to choosing the right person for recommendation letters and setting them up for success. Here are a few tips for when you are ready to ask for letters:

  • Ask individuals who know your student well. When requesting letters, your student should ask teachers and mentors they have gotten to know throughout high school. It is okay if they only have the teacher for one school year, but the key is that the writer of the recommendation letter is able to speak to your student’s academic performance, work ethic, character, and willingness to persevere in the face of adversity – especially in the last year. If selecting a coach, consider a coach who has also taught your student in the subject for a more well-rounded review of their abilities.
  • Share the college/university guidelines with the letter writer. Every institution has their own specific preferences for recommendation letters. Some schools might ask for two letters. Some might ask for them to be submitted electronically. Your student should read the guidelines carefully and make sure the writers have all that information. Make sure your teen prints that information and puts everything into a file that includes the guidelines, your student’s resume, their contact information, and the deadline for the letter. Your student should give the file to the people they’ve asked to write the letter for them with plenty of notice.
  • Be appreciative. This is an opportunity for your student to show professionalism and gratitude, so insist that they write a thank-you note after the teacher or mentor writes the letter on their behalf.

  • Summer is a good time to reach out as well. If the end of the school year is busy and your student does not have time to make recommendation letter requests before the last school bell rings, encourage them to spend time over the summer deciding which individuals to ask. They could send those emails over the summer or as the school year gets closer. Even early admission/early decision applications are not generally due before October, so this is something to keep in mind if your student waits until summer to ask for recommendations.

There are also a few things for your teen to consider when choosing a letter writer. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • If submitting more than one letter, go for variety. For example, choose a teacher and a supervisor for a part-time job.

  • If applying to a specific academic program, consider a teacher in a related subject. A student planning to become a doctor might ask the science or math teacher, especially if they persevered and flourished in that class.

  • When considering good letter writer candidates, don’t forget about class enjoyment. Did your student find the subject challenging but fulfilling? Make sure their growth in the time they have known the teacher is evident.

The recommendation letter process is around the corner. If you’re reading this article and thinking, “Does my student even know any teachers or mentors?”, it’s a good time to plant the seed. In high school, your student should establish relationships with teachers early. Encourage them to go into office hours, reach out for help, participate in class, and get to know the teacher as best as they can.

The letter of recommendation can be a great boost to your student’s college application. Remind your student of this so they can lay the groundwork for an excellent endorsement from a qualified mentor in their life.