Good letters of recommendation are one of the most important parts of an application. They allow you a chance to shine and stand out amongst thousands of similar applications. Now that we've established how important these letters are, let’s take a look at 5 fairly simple steps to actually attaining an LOR that’s going to make you look like a boss.
1. Come Up With A List Of Top Notch Recommenders
Some schools require you to have one recommendation, and some require you to have two or three. We recommend making a list of 3-5 Top Notch recommenders using the parameters outlined in Who Not To Ask For A Letter of Recommendation. Prioritize these people by which of them knows you best, has witnessed you change and grow as a student or person, or who has been there to personally witness an accomplishment you’re proud of.
2. Give Your Recommenders Plenty Of Time To Write Your Letter
Once you’ve got your list figured out, reach out to the people you’ve selected at least a month or so in advance. Even if your chemistry teacher thinks you’re the coolest, smartest person they’ve ever taught, waiting until the last minute to ask them to write you a letter of recommendation is (in the best case scenario) an inconvenience to someone you’re asking a favour of. In a slightly worse case scenario, your ideal recommender might not have time to write one for you if if you wait until the last minute to ask. After all, people are busy, and season 4 of House of Cards JUST came out. Another possible outcome of not providing your recommenders with ample time is that someone capable of writing you a world class recommendation ends up writing one that’s just okay because they were rushed. Plan ahead and avoid these scenarios at all costs, plain and simple.
3. Provide The Necessary Submission Details
Here’s an obvious one. Make sure you give your recommender application deadlines (so they know how much time they have to finish), your contact information (in case they have questions), copies of forms they’ll need to fill out (whether digital or physical), and of course addresses, contact info and any additional submission info for the school and or programs you’re applying to. If they’re going to send your letter of recommendation by physical mail, either because it’s required, or because that’s their preference, make it easy on them and provide a stamped and addressed envelope.
4. Speak with them before they write your letter of recommendation
If you picked the right people, chances are they’re already going to have some good things to say about you in the recommendation they write. However, setting up some time to speak with them after you’ve asked them to write your letter, and before they start writing it, can help ensure that 1) they’ve got everything they need, and 2) they know why you chose them, which can inspire them even more.
5. Tell Them, “Thank You!”
Another obvious one here, but make sure to give a heartfelt thank you to anyone who writes you a letter of recommendation. It can be an in-person thank you, an email, or even a card. It really doesn’t matter; just be sure to express your gratitude. And to take this a step further, make sure to contact them again when you get accepted. People love celebrating good news and they’ll get fulfillment out of knowing they helped provide a meaningful contribution to your college application, and ultimately your future.
One Final Thing To Remember
There’s no need to feel guilty or nervous about asking someone for a letter of recommendation. You’ll find that most people will be happy to write you one. And when it comes to teachers, well, they of all people expect to get letter of recommendation requests, especially during college application season. For example, Admissionado’s Head College Mentor, Stephen Black, chose to ask the principal of his high school for one of the letters of recommendation he needed for his application to Harvard:
"I had formed a close working relationship with my school's principal. I attended board meetings with him, planned out school activities, and we generally kept up a friendly rapport. Thus, he wasn't surprised when I asked him to write a letter of recommendation for my college applications. He was happy to do it. And actually, in a fit of excitement, he grabbed the school intercom mic and bellowed, 'Senior Stephen Black has gotten into Harvard!' when I told him I had gotten in later in the year.”