How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation - Samples & Templates

Photo of student shaking professor's hand after asking for a letter of recommendation
Updated:
September 14, 2023
14 min read
Contents

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 9/14/23

Need help on how to ask for letters of recommendation for college? Check out this article that offers vital information on how to do so. 

A teacher

Creating your college application takes hard work. You need to gather transcripts, put together personal statements, pay application fees… the list goes on. Quite possibly, one of the most crucial components of your application is your letters of recommendation. 

A letter of recommendation is a personalized letter from one of your teachers, supervisors, volunteer guides, or clients that is received and read by college admissions boards. They are used to illustrate that you would be a good fit for the college and discuss who you are from another person's point of view.

This article will discuss how to ask for a letter of recommendation. You will learn about who to ask, plan how to ask, use proper etiquette, and other concerns you may have regarding the matter.

Do You Need a College Recommendation Letter?

Most post-secondary institutions require you to have one to three letters of recommendation in your application. As a high school student, colleges usually expect them to be from your guidance counselor and at least one teacher. These letters are usually electronically submitted through the college's specific application portals or The Common Application

However, the number of letters may vary, and some schools do not even need you to have one. Make sure to check your dream college's admission requirements to see if they need recommendation letters and, if so, how many are required. You also have the option to offer supplemental letters if they are not required; doing so might better your chances of being accepted because it shows you are willing to do extra work to be considered.

Recommendation letters are good for your college application as they give a window into your skills and qualifications from a trusted source. It’s a great way to give your application an edge.

Who to Ask for a College Recommendation Letter

Here is a list of people who are best suited to write students a letter of recommendation for college. These people are qualified because they can talk about your skills, strong personality traits, and dedication in whatever activities you have done under their supervision. 

Teachers

Teachers are the most common and optimal choices to write a recommendation letter. 

They are in the best position to comment on your academic strength, skills, and relationship with your work and your classmates. 

When choosing your teachers, you can consider a class you excelled in academically. Which teacher inspired you? Which class did you participate in and show effort in? Did you impress any teachers with your dedication to group work and projects? Are there any classes in which you surpassed the teachers' expectations?

You can also ask a teacher who participated in a club you were in or one that had you for more than one class. Junior-year teachers are usually your best bet because they taught you for a whole year, while your senior teachers do not yet have that much experience with you. 

All in all, you must choose a teacher who knows you well. Even if you did not get the top grade in their class, you should choose a teacher who can vouch for you having confidence and amicable personal strengths.

Teacher Letter of Recommendation Template

If you’re unsure of what to write, take a look at this sample template. Here is how you might request a recommendation letter from a teacher. 

Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs. [Teacher Name],
I hope this email finds you well. I am currently applying to [school name] to study [desired major], and I was wondering if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for my application. 
I really enjoyed [element of or assignment in] your class, and I feel your lessons have improved my skills in [area of study]. I believe that as my teacher, you could effectively vouch for my [skills and qualifications] and provide a strong account of my [other skills and qualifications]. 
If this is something you are open to, I have attached my updated [resume/brag sheet] and [school’s] admission requirements. The deadline for the letter is [date]. It can be submitted through [submission details]. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Thank you very much for your consideration. 
Sincerely, 
[Your Name]
[Your contact information]

Employers

If you have worked a job during your high school years, your employers would be the next best choice to write you a letter for college. Believe it or not, colleges and universities greatly value letters from employers. Alongside academics, a job shows that you are a reliable worker, which mirrors your reputation as a student in a classroom. 

Like teachers, you and your employer should have a good relationship. They should be able to vouch for your job performance. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • In what ways did you exceed your employer’s expectations? 
  • What are your skills that are highlighted in your performance? 
  • What skills did you learn? 
  • What does your employer like about you as an employee?
  • How did your employer influence you? 

With these questions in mind, you can put together a solid request for your employer. That way, your employer can write a strong letter that will show prospective colleges why you would be a great fit for their institution.

Employer Letter of Recommendation Template

Check out this letter of recommendation template for college to help you put together a request email to your employer.

Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs. [Employer Name],
I hope this email finds you well. I am currently applying to [school name] to study [desired major], and I was wondering if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for my application. 
I thoroughly enjoyed working as [job title] at [company name] and particularly enjoyed my time working with you on [project], as I feel your influence has allowed me to develop [skill]. I believe that as my employer, you could effectively vouch for my [skills and qualifications] and provide a strong account of my [other skills and qualifications]. 
If this is something you are open to, I have attached my updated [resume/brag sheet] and [school’s] admission requirements. The deadline for the letter is [date]. It can be submitted through [submission details]. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. 
Thank you very much for your consideration. 
Sincerely, 
[Your Name]
[Your contact information]

People You Know from Volunteering

If you have done any volunteer or charity work, you can ask your supervisors from the project for a letter of recommendation. These letters are just as valuable as teachers or employers. This type of recommendation letter shows that you are someone who is willing to do volunteer work and learn new skills, such as event planning, time management, and leadership skills.

The fact that you volunteer demonstrates your dedication to a cause, whether at an animal shelter, children's hospital, local library, etc. Your supervisors and fellow volunteers can see how you demonstrate the group's objective and showcase your capacities to align with the institution's desired profile. These letters can also be ideal when applying for financial aid and scholarships.

Volunteer Supervisor Letter of Recommendation Template

Here is how you might ask a supervisor or fellow volunteer for a letter of recommendation. 

Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs. [Reference Name],
I hope this email finds you well. I am currently applying to [school name] to study [desired major], and I was wondering if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for my application. 
I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering at [organization name] and particularly enjoyed my time working with you on [project], as I feel your influence has allowed me to develop [skill]. I believe that as [your relationship to the reference], you could effectively vouch for my [skills and qualifications] and provide a strong account of my [other skills and qualifications]. 
If this is something you are open to, I have attached my updated [resume/brag sheet] and [school’s] admission requirements. The deadline for the letter is [date]. It can be submitted through [submission details]. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. 
Thank you very much for your consideration. 
Sincerely, 
[Your Name]
[Your contact information]

Who Should You Not Ask for a College Recommendation Letter

Some students do not know the correct people to ask for recommendation letters. You should not ask these people for college recommendation letters.  

Family 

Under no circumstances should you ask family members for a letter of recommendation. Colleges will not regard the letter favorably. Not only would it weaken your application, but your chances of getting accepted as well. 

Since your family members are your blood relatives, many admissions officers assume that any positive views are biased. This is generally a conflict of interest. Colleges do not want to hear about someone who is essentially programmed to think the best of you; you should instead ask someone on whom you have made an impression in the time they knew you. 

Your Best Friend (Unless It is a Peer Recommendation)

Your friends and classmates should not write your college letters of recommendation. Letters should be from people who taught or supervised you, not someone your age who spends time with you for other activities.

Sometimes, though, there can be special exceptions. Schools such as Dartmouth or Davidson College offer a specific 'peer recommendation' requirement. This allows you to ask a friend, sibling, colleague, or teammate to elaborate on your relationship with them and talk about your strengths and good qualities. 

But remember, unless otherwise stated, friends should not offer recommendations. Most other colleges will dismiss your candidacy if they find out your letter came from one of your fellow high school peers.

Someone Who Does Not Know You Well

It should be obvious not to ask someone who barely knows you for a recommendation letter. The letter aims to have someone vouch for how you are an ideal student with a unique personality and would make a great addition to the college campus. So, the writer of the letter has to know you to some extent and should know some of your strengths in detail. 

There is no logical reason to request a letter from someone with whom you do not have a strong relationship. You should take time to consider different people to ask. Evaluate people you have made a strong impression on or worked closely with. If the person you have in mind has no connection to you, don’t ask them. 

How to Ask for a Letter

Of course, you have to ask the people you have chosen for a letter of recommendation for college. However, there are special steps you must take when requesting a letter, and they all vary on how you approach the person with the request. Here are some etiquette tips for the forum you want to ask them.

    Email

    Nowadays, the best choice to ask a teacher or supervisor for a letter of recommendation is through email. It is quick, efficient, and offers the most privacy. However, you must approach them with a formal and polite request promptly.

    Determine the schedule - It is best to request a letter from your person of choice six to eight weeks before you need it. Never make a last-minute request; it could limit your options, affect the letter's quality, and possibly miss the deadline. 

    If you cannot afford a six- to eight-week notice, ask as soon as possible. It is courteous and allows the person plenty of time for this favor so they can put effort and thought into the letter to present you in a positive light.

    Draft and edit your email - Create a personalized email for each person you’ve chosen. Copying a different request directly from your email is not wise; you may carry over incorrect details. Remember to proofread your email before sending off the final draft.

    Send your email and set a reminder to follow up - After sending the request, allow a few days for them to accept. In case they deny it, you should have some backups ready. If they agree, set a reminder for yourself to follow up with them three days before the due date in case they have not yet sent you the letter.

    Phone

    It may not be ideal for high school students, but you can always call the person of your choice to request a letter. You must, however, make sure it is appropriate to call them, especially if it is a teacher. When requesting a letter of recommendation, you should always approach the person respectfully and keep in mind that you are asking them for a favor. 

    Determine when they are free to call, then politely ask them for a letter of recommendation, lay out the details (which program you are applying to, what you wish them to write about), and then be prepared to answer any questions. Be sure to make note of what you wish to say to them before making the call to avoid any awkwardness, or else you may not get your point and vision across. 

    In Person

    As a high school student, your best choice is to request a letter from a teacher or employer in person. Doing so demonstrates your boldness and confidence and proves that you are proactive. 

    Of course, if circumstances require you to request over email or even phone, that is perfectly acceptable. However, asking in person allows you to add personal touches that you may not be able to over email and phone. 

    Be sure to ask them what would be a good time to talk to them alone. If it is a teacher, ask if you can talk after class or find a time to sit with them alone and discuss it. With an employer, you can call ahead and ask when they are free so that you can talk with them in their office.

    When to Ask for a Recommendation Letter? 

    Usually, it is best to ask for a recommendation letter at least a month before the deadline. To be on the safe side, you should allow your references six to eight weeks to write it. This will give the references time to decide if they can write a letter, how to plan it out, draft it, and write the final copy.  

    Remember, many teachers receive several requests for letters of recommendation, and writing these letters can be quite overwhelming. Give them an appropriate time frame to plan it out and write it. 

    Recommendation Letter Tips

    If you’re daunted by the task of asking for a recommendation letter, take a look at these tips! 

    A thumbs up

    Make a List of People to Ask 

    It’s a good idea to make an extensive list of all the people you could potentially ask to write you a recommendation letter. That way, you can prioritize the people whom you believe would give you the strongest recommendations. You will also have other options to turn to if someone is unable to write a letter for you. 

    Be Prompt 

    Don’t leave it until the last minute. You don’t want to miss your application deadline because you’re waiting for someone to submit a letter! The best way to avoid that situation is to make sure your references have lots of time to write a letter for you.

    Include All Necessary Information (And Then Some)

    It’s helpful to be very clear about your expectations to avoid a disappointing letter from your references. This means that you should include all the information they might need to write a good recommendation letter. 

    In your request email to your references, you should attach: 

    • An updated resume or brag sheet
    • Application details for the college you’re applying to 
    • Details from the college on what the letter should include
    • Details on how and when to submit the letter
    • Any particular skills or topics you’d like the reference to focus on

    It also doesn’t hurt to include some personal touches and comments on your relationship with the person you’re asking. 

    Have Grace for Rejection

    If your reference does not agree to write a letter of recommendation for you, don’t take it personally. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your merit as a person. People may have personal reasons for refusing or may simply be too occupied with other tasks. 

    Don’t be upset if you receive a rejection. Be gracious, thank them anyway for their time, and move on to the next person on your list. 

    Send a Thank-You Note

    After the letters have been completed, signed, and sent, it is common courtesy to send a thank-you letter to each individual who wrote them. It shows your genuine gratitude for what they have done for you. You can even take it a step further and offer your references a gift of thanks, like a gift card or a sweet treat. 

    Letter of Recommendation Sample

    If you’re unsure what the letter should sound like, here is a sample recommendation letter for your college application. You can share this example with your references to aid them in their writing. 

    To whom it may concern, 
    I am writing this letter of recommendation for Jamie Smith, who is applying to Yale University’s English literature program. Jamie worked as a journalism intern with us at the Toronto Star, and as her supervisor, I was consistently impressed by her dedication to detail and her outstanding writing abilities. She is an excellent communicator and researcher and works well with others to produce error-free content. 
    Jamie is passionate about storytelling and creativity. At the same time, she is very organized and has a logical and analytical mind that assists her greatly in her writing endeavors. She would make an excellent addition to the community at Yale University. 
    Please feel free to contact me if you require any additional information. 
    Thank you for your time, 
    Thomas Johnson

    FAQs: How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for College

    Do you have any more concerns regarding asking for a college recommendation letter? Here are some general FAQs regarding how to ask for a letter of recommendation for college. 

    1. Can I Use the Same Letters of Recommendation for All My Dream Schools?

    Yes, of course! If a letter of recommendation is required, you should ask the person writing the letter to submit it separately to each college. An application platform like Common App can help facilitate the process. A platform automatically sends all documents to the schools you apply for.

    2. Should I Tell My References What I Want Them to Write About?

    You don’t necessarily have to tell your references what to discuss, but rather have a talk and lay out your ideas of what you would like them to write about. They may ask you what you want the colleges to know, and you can offer them the personal and intellectual qualities you want them to discuss.

    3. How Long Should My College Recommendation Letter Be?

    Your letter of recommendation should be around 300 to 400 words and be no more than two pages in length unless otherwise specified by the college.It should present your accomplishments, skills, and character from an objective point of view.

    4. Should I Include My Reference's Contact Information?

    Your person of choice should sign it so the letter is authentic. They can offer their contact information if the college permits it, but if they do, it has to be sealed in an envelope or document for confidentiality reasons. 

    5. Can I Ask a Former Professor for a Letter of Recommendation?

    Yes, but don’t go too far into the past. Professors from 2-3 years ago are still good options. If you wish to go further back to ask a teacher who had a strong connection with you, you can always contact them and make a formal request. You can recommend that they talk about a special project you did in their class, how you were their top student, etc.

    Final Thoughts

    Asking for a college recommendation letter can be a daunting and humbling task. However, if done well, it can be a rewarding experience that can make a great impression on your academic future. 

    It is important to be respectful and civil when requesting a letter of recommendation; figure out the best way to contact them, give them time to do it, and thank them for their work once it’s done. It can help you in the long run!

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