Tips to Request Letters of Recommendation | Winward Academy


How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation

Congratulations! You’ve finally reached the portion of your college application journey that doesn’t fall on you to complete! But before you start celebrating, don’t forget that you’ll have to get the ball rolling by actually asking for letters of recommendation.

Before you get started, you’ll need to figure out which of the schools you’re applying to require them. You’ll also want to be aware of your application deadlines, whether they’re early-decision, early-action, or regular. You’ll need to share this information with anybody you ask to write a letter.

Now the important part: deciding whom to ask.

Whom to ask

Ideally, you’ll ask someone who recently taught you in a core subject (English, math, science, history) and who knows you well and (of course) likes you. If no one fits all three criteria, prioritize like so.

  1. Knows and likes you
  2. Taught you recently (Junior year preferable)
  3. Taught you in a core subject

Bear in mind that some schools will REQUIRE you to use a teacher who taught you in a core subject, so do double check.

If any of your applications require more than one letter of recommendation, try to pick two writers who will highlight separate strengths. Unless you’re applying to an art or music school, it wouldn’t be prudent to ask your art or music teacher to write your primary letter. However, if two are required, having the second letter come with an extracurricular angle could be a great way to set yourself apart.

You’ve figured out who you want to ask. Now comes the how.

How to ask

When it comes to how to ask for a letter of recommendation, there are a few important things to keep in mind. You definitely DO NOT want to take shortcuts here.

  1. Actually ask: This may seem like a no-brainer, but just in case it isn’t obvious, you don’t just put down your favorite teacher on your common app. You have to actually ask them to do it.

  2. Ask ahead of time: Chances are you won’t be the only person asking this teacher for a letter of recommendation. These things can pile up, especially for teachers who are well-liked. So ask well in advance. As in, end-of-junior-year in advance. Try to give your teacher at least 90 days before the deadline, but remember that the more time you give them, the better the result will most likely be.

  3. Ask face to face: Unless it’s impossible, ask in person! Asking on the phone is a distant second option, and asking via email is last. This is NOT something you do over text! 🙄

  4. Ask on your own: You and your pals might all be asking the same teacher for a rec. Be this as it may, DON’T stroll in with your squad to bombard your teacher. First of all, asking one-on-one is the polite thing to do, even if it does stir up a little bit more anxiety. Secondly, if multiple people ask at once, it might make your teacher feel inclined to answer yes to everyone. Respect the teacher’s right to politely decline.

  5. Be grateful: Be sure to thank your teacher in writing. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, but a gift of some kind and a hand-written note will go a long way. Your teachers aren’t getting paid to write these recs and are doing it because they care, so let them know that you recognize and appreciate their time and effort.

When to ask

You might want to schedule a quick meeting with your teacher in advance, or hang around after class. No need to overthink this. Be polite and don’t beat around the bush. Ask away, and be sure to explain why you chose them.

What to have ready to share when you ask

You’ve finished all of the hard parts, but don’t forget to follow up. Your teacher is going to need a few things from you.

  1. An up-to-date resume. Find a template online if you don’t have one yet.
  2. The list of colleges you’ll be applying to, and each college’s deadlines.
  3. A brief summary of what you hope your future studies will hold.
  4. Anything else your teacher asks of you.

This is also a perfect time to reiterate how grateful you are, and it will go a long way. Thank them!

P.S. You are going to want to waive your FERPA rights on the common app website. What this basically means, is that you won’t read the letter of recommendation that your teachers write for you. Colleges prefer this, because it guarantees an unbiased perspective from your teacher.

There’s a lot to do, but if you get started early, these letters will be done before you know it.

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About Winward Academy – Winward Academy is one of the world’s leading innovators in the online education space, providing web-based academic support that enhances students’ knowledge, confidence, and competitiveness in middle and high school academics and in college applications. We help thousands of students every year by providing personalized, comprehensive ACT and SAT test preparation and extensive math curriculum support. The Winward Academy learning platform honors over 40 years of education and cognitive psychology research, incorporating proven techniques that promote effective learning.

Winward Academy’s unmatched reputation is wholly attributable to our students’ exceptional success and to the trust earned among students, parents, and schools around the world.

Jennifer Winward, Ph.D.

Dr. Jennifer Winward is a renowned college instructor, a distinguished 20-year veteran of high school tutoring, and the founder and lead instructor of Winward Academy. She earned her Ph.D. specializing in adolescent brain development and adolescent learning. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude with highest distinction honors. Dr. Winward has been widely recognized for her academic success, published research, and philanthropic efforts with awards from the President of the United States, the California State Assembly, Rotary International, the Marin County School Administrator Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Science Foundation.