5 Steps to Ensure a Stellar Letter of Recommendation

The following is a guest post written by Anna Carapellotti of Admissionado, a premier college admissions consulting company focused on helping students get into their dream schools.


You’ve nailed down your school list, have a solid draft of your Common App essay, and feel like you’re well on your way to being college bound. Now, it’s time to ask for letters of recommendation. A recommendation letter should be written by someone who knows of your strengths, personality, and accomplishments. These letters are taken seriously by admissions committees, as they are seen as candid descriptions of you and your character. Since you generally will not get to see what goes into your letter, here are some tips to ensuring you get a great one:

1. Ask early

Whether your recommender is your teacher, coach, or manager, it’s important to keep in mind that they’re very busy. So, make sure that you ask them far enough in advance to give them plenty of time to actually write a quality letter. We usually recommend asking four to six weeks in advance, with four weeks being the absolute minimum.

Particularly in high school, it becomes especially important to ask for your letters early, as most of your fellow students are rushing for the same deadlines — and asking the same teachers, counselors, etc. for letters of recommendation. Asking early will not only ensure that your recommender has the time to put thought into your letter, but it will also show them that you’re on top of your game, which could lead to an even stronger letter!

2. Ask someone who will write you a positive letter

How can you know if someone would write you a good letter? Well, the first thing to consider is your memory. Do you have a good rapport with this person? Have all of your interactions been positive? If it’s a teacher, have you gotten good grades in their class? If it’s an employer or volunteer supervisor, have you performed well on the job? Is the work you have done with this person relevant to the program to which you are applying? If you have answered ‘yes’ to most or all of the above questions, then chances are this person will write you a strong letter.

Also, when asking your prospective recommender if they can write you a letter, consider gauging their response. If they say ‘yes’ enthusiastically, then chances are their letter will reflect said enthusiasm. If they are hesitant, or if you asked them via email and they didn’t respond, it might be worth it to ask someone else.

[RELATED: 5 Things to Consider When Seeking Teacher Recommendations]

3. Provide your recommenders with all of the necessary details

While it is important to give your recommender plenty of time to write the letter, don’t ask them for such a favor before sorting out all of the details they’ll require first. This could include the precise name and information about the university to which you’re applying, the nature of your goals and how this program will help you reach them, a reminder of your relationship with the recommender (and how this relationship is relevant to what you’re hoping to accomplish), when the letter is due, etc. If you’ve selected someone who is ready and willing to write you a good letter, then they’re going to need all of this information to do just that.

4. Waive your right to see the letter

While Federal Law grants you access to your recommendation letters after you’ve been accepted to an institution, it is recommended that you waive your right to review them. You won’t be penalized either way, but choosing not to waive might cause your recommender to write a less candid (and less passionate) description of you, or might signal to the admissions committee that you do not trust your recommender. If you have followed the advice laid out in sections one, two, and three, then you should feel completely comfortable leaving the rest up to your recommender.

[RELATED: How to Survive the College Application Process]

5. Say ‘thank you’

Obviously, this step comes after your recommender has written the letter, but it’s crucial — don’t forget to say thank you! And we don’t mean a quick email. Write them a handwritten card. If they really went out of their way to support you in the application process, consider getting them a small gift, such as flowers, coffee, or chocolate. A great letter of recommendation can make or break your application, so be sure to show your recommender that you are truly appreciative.

So, to recap, ask someone (early!) who will write you a strong recommendation, provide them with all of the necessary information, and don’t forget to say thank you.


The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.