Letters of recommendation

Letters of recommendation can help your college application process.

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a letter usually written by a teacher or another adult who isn’t a relative. Letters speak highly about your academic abilities, talents beyond the classroom and personal character. While only some colleges and universities require letters for admission, these are often required for scholarships or specialized programs.

Why ask for letters of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation often helps bring your life story, talents and personality to life when a university official reads the letter alongside your test scores and grades. Letters of recommendation provide you with an opportunity to showcase your talents and character through the voice of an adult who knows you well. A great letter of recommendation can help your admissions decision at some colleges and schools that require the letters and help you earn scholarships.

Who should I ask to write a letter for me?

Teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators (principals, vice principals, etc.) provide some of the most commonly written letters of recommendation for students. Others include coaches, faith and community leaders, and employers. Most importantly, choose adults who know you best, can share specific stories about you and are enthusiastic about supporting your goals. It’s also important to choose an adult who is not related to you.

When should I ask for a letter?

If you are planning to attend college directly after high school, it’s best to ask for letters of recommendation in your junior year or early in your senior year. If you are having a teacher write on your behalf, ask a teacher who taught you recently versus one who instructed you in just one class in ninth grade – unless you have a particularly close relationship with them. Regardless, ask for letters as early as possible in your application process to give them plenty of time.

Letters of recommendation are not required to be admitted into an undergraduate program at ASU, NAU and Arizona. However, letters may be required for certain scholarships, honors programs and graduate degree programs.

What makes a memorable letter of recommendation?

It tells the reader who you are as a person, not just a student.

While sharing details of your intellectual curiosity and academic achievement is important, remember that your transcripts often tell this story. A letter of recommendation should also speak of your character, your goals and why the writer thinks you will succeed in college.

It tells stories and uses examples from real life.

It’s the actual things you do and relationships you form that set your story apart from others. A letter of recommendation should tell the reader about your story, including specific examples that demonstrate the way you approach people and the things that happen in your life.

Tips for letters of recommendation

Give a deadline

Look closely at the deadlines for each school where you are applying. Make sure the person writing your letter is aware of those deadlines.

If your due date is approaching and the person you asked for a letter hasn’t confirmed that they submitted it, ask them for a status update; adults are busy people and will appreciate the reminder.

Provide specific guidance

Tell the individual writing your letter the school(s) you are applying to and/or the specific scholarship or program that requires the application.

If there are specific things you want in your letter, don’t hesitate to ask for them.

Ensure that your letter author knows how to submit your recommendation. Usually it’s via email to a specific email address.

Waive your right to read

You (or your letter author) may be asked to check a box that waives your right to read the letter. If you provide that waiver, you will not be able to ask the college or university where you applied to grant you access to read it.

Waiving your right to read the recommendation signals to the reader that they can fully trust the recommendation. Letter authors often send it to you anyway before submitting it, so that you can see their glowing reference.

Write a thank you note

Once the letter is sent, write the person who wrote your letter a thank you note expressing your gratitude. It’s a kind thing to do and tells them that you value the time and effort they spent to help you achieve your goals.

Keep your letter writer updated on the progress of your application so that they can share in your success when you get great news!

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