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How to ask for a letter of recommendation

Knowledge, skills and personality can get students far, but having the right people in their corners can open doors for new opportunities that students might otherwise never have considered. Perhaps this is why recommendations are so coveted when applying to schools.

Asking for a letter of recommendation is something that should be done with forethought. The correct approach and proper timing can mean the difference between receiving a recommendation or not.

Who to ask

The first step for students is to decide who they want to ask for a recommendation. Select those teachers who know you well or can validate how you performed or improved in class. Opt for a teacher whose class you recently took so the recommendation reflects the student you are today and not the student you might have been when you were younger.

It can also help to ask for a recommendation from teachers or staff who have sufficient experience. Their input may carry more weight than someone whose career is less accomplished. A well-established teacher who leads a class that pertains to your academic goals is a good fit.

Remember to consider the requirements of a college or university as well. Schools frequently ask for recommendations from specific people, such as a teacher in a certain subject.

Ask early

Teachers may be inundated with college letter recommendation requests around application deadlines and at the end of semesters. It's better to leave plenty of time than to put teachers under pressure. The same rule applies to anyone else you're asking to write you a recommendation.

Request in person

Underscore the importance of the recommendation by making it a personal request. Schedule an appointment with the individual and discuss why you believe he or she would be the right person to provide the recommendation. Remind the person of your attributes and point out something that exemplifies your skills. Speaking face-to-face shows respect and gives you the advantage to make your points personally, rather than through email.

Make the process easier

Provide all of the necessary items to help the person along. This can include a brief résumé, academic progress report, required forms, and so on. Also offer any college- or employer-directed requests. As the deadline looms, offer concise reminders that you will need the recommendation. Offer to pick it up personally. Make copies or scan and save the original just in case a mix-up in the admissions office occurs.

Recommendations are a key part of landing a job or being offered acceptance into a college or university. Asking the right people early will translate into recommendations that paint an accurate picture of applicants.