What You Need to Know about Letter of Recommendation

Updated: Dec 28, 2020


The overwhelming majority of selective universities will ask you to include at least one letter of recommendation to accompany your college application. Letters of recommendation have the potential to bring your application to life—this is your chance to show that you are not just a GPA and a test score. Your teachers or advisors will work to paint a picture of the person you are to universities, by speaking about your personality traits, your accomplishments, your community involvement, and your potential.


You will not get the chance to read or approve the letters that your teachers and advisors write for you, so you should be careful in your selection of who you ask. It is unlikely that any teacher will say no when asked to write a letter, but some might have a wider array of stand-out positive things to say about you than others. A teacher that you have built a somewhat personal relationship with, be it through a club, community service, a class, or a sport, is likely to be a good choice. Because virtually no student will be receiving a negative recommendation, yours should be exceptional in order to stand out.

When discussing the letter with a teacher or advisor, there are ways for you to politely inquire about their willingness or ability to write you an exceptional letter. A good way of doing so might be to begin by researching your prospective top-schools and what they are looking for in a student. For example, among other things, Harvard looks for a student who: has reached their maximum academic and personal potential, has stretched themselves, has motivation and initiative, cares deeply about academic, extracurricular or personal interests, has shown genuine leadership and involvement and is open to new people and ideas. If Harvard happens to be your top school, asking your teacher if they see these qualities in you might be a good way to gauge whether or not they will write you a worthy letter.


While the thought of asking a teacher or other authority figure to write a letter on your behalf might seem intimidating, speaking to them as early as possible will relieve stress for both parties. If possible, definitely try to ask your prospective writers for letters at LEAST one month before your earliest college application deadline. By waiting until the last minute to ask, you will not only decrease your chances at receiving a high-quality letter but also potentially decrease your chances at getting a “yes.” Your teacher may have already told multiple other students that they would write on their behalf and may simply not have time to add one more letter to the pile. Play it safe and ask early!


If you are a freshman or sophomore in high school, now might be a good time to think about building strong relationships with your teachers so that who to ask is an easy choice when you have to make it. First and foremost, show your teachers the most positive aspects of your personality throughout high school—show them your passions, portray your enthusiasm about learning, be a pleasant and polite student. Secondly, get involved! A great way to make a relationship with a teacher is to be involved and to be a leader in your community. For example, starting a club that pertains to a passion of yours and getting a teacher involved in the process will help showcase both your passions and your positive attributes. Overall, be positive, be kind, and be involved!

SUMMARY: Letter of Recommendation tips:

· Ask for letters EARLY

· Find a time to ask in person, rather than by email or phone

· Make sure to be polite, kind, and patient when you ask

· Do research on what your top schools are looking for and make sure whoever writes your letter sees these qualities in you

· Look for hints when you speak to your teacher—gauge their excitement and willingness to write you an exceptional letter

· Provide your teacher with organized information about you—a short personal statement including a write up of your passions and goals, a resume, whatever else you think might be helpful (make their job as easy as possible!)

· Make sure to say THANK YOU: a hand-written note is a perfect way to thank your teacher or advisor for the work that they put in on your behalf

· Build relationships with your teachers early on in high school--this will make the process smooth and simple

If you want to have access to some examples of exceptional letters of recommendation, and/or have more questions regarding how to get an exceptional letter of recommendation from your teachers, please email us at or call us at 949-557-7124. Our director has worked with admissions officers from schools like Harvard, Northwestern, and UC Berkeley. Thank you!

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