Recommendations for Letters of Recommendations

Ask people who will speak well of you, and don't ask two days before the letter is due

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Letters of recommendation can be tricky. I know when I was in high school I made some serious errors in this process. It is easy to let this get by you, but the more you plan ahead, the better your letters will be.

Who cares about letters, though? You should! Because colleges and universities are able to get some great insight into the type of person you are. 

College applications can look very similar. Most high school students take the same classes and do many of the same things. These letters are a really wonderful way to have someone speak on your behalf and set you apart, to go to bat for you in a way your essays and GPA cannot.

Who should you ask? Before anything else, be sure you follow the guidelines of your college application. Sometimes they ask for a teacher along with a community member that is not family. Most importantly, ask someone who knows you well. You want someone who will write positively about you and will know specific details about your integrity, work ethic, school performance, and community involvement. Consider your athletic coach, your boss at work, or your piano teacher. People like this show you have someone credible to stand behind you.

A very helpful tool you can provide for your letter-writers is a list of highlights. It’s possible your boss doesn’t know you have a 4.0 GPA or you won first place on the academic team. Of course, they can talk about how well you complete tasks at work, but if they have a copy of your resume or something similar, their letter can be more detailed and complete. It is a way to make sure all of your accomplishments make their way into the letter and then into the hands of the people who will determine your future at a potential school. 

The most important part of this whole process, though, is timing. People typically like at least a month to write a letter of recommendation. Especially if you are asking a teacher at school, they are probably writing letters for a lot of students. The longer they have to work on it, the better it will be. If they have to slap it together in two weeks, it could be a mess. So remember, one month or more!

Also, you can’t ask someone to write you a letter and forget about it. A week before it is due, check back in with all your letter-writers to make sure they will mail it out or get it to you before the deadline. Don’t take for granted that they will follow through.

Follow up, also, with a thank you note. This is a good habit to get into as soon as possible. These people have done you a big favor by recommending you. They put their own good name on the line. Write a personal thank you note within the week after the letter is submitted. If you ever need additional help or even another letter of recommendation, this thank you will let your contacts know they are appreciated and they will be more likely to continue to help you in the future.

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