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  • Writer's pictureKate Pedigo, M.Ed., NCC

Recommendation Letters for College Admission

letter of recommendation

Recommendation letters are an integral part of the college application process, and a little advanced planning can help make the process smooth for you and for your recommenders.

Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions from Growing2College students:

When should I ask for recommendation letters?

Spring of junior year is the ideal time to ask for letters of recommendation in support of your college applications. If you miss that timeline, early senior year is the next best option.

How many letters of recommendation will I need?

Many students will only need one letter of recommendation from a teacher for their college applications. Some colleges require two teacher letters of recommendation and a school counselor letter of recommendation. Some schools allow for a larger number of recommenders, but it’s rare for a school to require more than 2.

Please remember that recommendation letters are very time-consuming to compose, and some teachers have a large number of letters to write each application season. Check the websites of your colleges of interest to see what they require, and plan accordingly.

Whom should I ask?

Colleges tend to prefer recommendations from 11th grade teachers in core subjects: English, math, history/social studies, science and international languages. If you have a great current rapport with a 10th grade teacher (the teacher is also a leader of your club or team, for instance) these rules can bend a bit. Your 12th grade teachers are not likely the best choice, as they may not know you very well yet or have many meaningful details to share.

You might consider a class you enjoy or one that is aligned with your future major. Maybe you have a class in which you did a great job on an assignment or group project, or had a meaningful experience that your teacher can share. You don’t have to choose a class where you earned a great grade- maybe you had some struggles in a class but your teacher noticed your hard work and dedication.

Other recommenders: Your school counselor may be required to complete a letter as well. Some colleges also allow for additional teacher recommendations (band teacher, for example) or “external recommenders” such as a coach, mentor, or boss.

How can I help my recommender(s) with the process?

Once you have decided which people to ask, create an info sheet. Some high schools have a survey or “brag sheet” available for you to complete, and you should complete your high school’s version if available. Ask your counselor for details.

If allowed, you can also create your own info sheet. Here are examples of what to include in your info sheet to the teacher:

  • Your college list

  • Your earliest college application deadline (keep in mind any college or program for which an early recommendation would be beneficial (ex: Rolling admission nursing program)

  • Major of interest and, if applicable, a sentence about how it aligns with the class (ex: working through the cell biology chapter in your class developed your interest in pursuing a molecular biology major)

  • Tell the recommender why you selected him/her. What about your experience/relationship makes the person a good representative to speak to your strengths? Note specific projects, papers or labs in which you excelled, or group work where you led or brought creativity, organization or diligence to a project. Think about which strengths you would like the teacher to highlight and provide specific examples

  • You can also include some personal interest info, if you’d like

Keep in mind that recommendation letters should ideally include information that can’t be found somewhere else in your college application. This is an opportunity for college admissions committees to learn more about you as a person and gain context on your high school experiences and statistics.

How do I request a recommendation?

  • Ask your recommender in person if he/she would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you.

  • Provide a copy of your info sheet and/or let them know that you will send it via email. Sometimes teachers prefer to complete letters in the summer, but if a teacher indicates a preference for fall, let him/her know you’ll follow up and send the info sheet at a date of their choosing.

  • Express gratitude for the time your recommender will be investing in writing your letter and let him/her know you will check in again in the fall.

  • Make sure you know and follow your high school’s official request process for letters of recommendation as well.

  • Complete this same process for your counselor or external recommender, if applicable.

  • In the fall of senior year, offer to meet with your recommenders in person to discuss any updates. Verify that they have all of the information they need to complete your letter by your earliest college deadline.

Please be patient with your recommenders. Colleges often provide a grace period after application deadlines to complete recommendation letters. It’s ok to politely follow up with your recommenders along the way, keeping in mind that your deadlines may differ from theirs.

At Growing2College, we are happy to help with any step of the college planning and application process. Request a free 20-min consultation to learn more about how we can be helpful.

Kate Pedigo, M.Ed. NCC is an Independent Educational Consultant and founder of Growing2College. Join us on social media for college planning updates, tips, and resources: Facebook   Instagram   LinkedIn    

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