Who should I ask to write my recommendation letter?

James G. NondorfJames G. Nondorf
Vice President of Enrollment and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid
University of Chicago

Ideally, your recommendation letters should come from teachers who know you well in an academic subject. It’s nice to hear that you got an A in their class, but it’s even better when an instructor can talk about how you think, solve problems, and engage with new material. Teachers who can speak to your more recent performance are often a great choice, especially if they’ve been with you through your time in high school and have seen how you’ve grown as a person and a student. Some schools may let you submit an additional recommendation above the number they require; this is an opportunity to let a club advisor, employer, or someone from your community speak to your strengths. However, it’s important not to overdo it. A quality recommendation will speak volumes more than several vague ones ever could.

Nancy G. McDuff
Associate Vice President for Admissions and Enrollment Management

The University of Georgia

Always ask someone who knows you to write your recommendation. It may be the teacher in the subject in which you excelled or even in the one in which you struggled, but eventually did well. This will show the reader how hard you are willing to work to overcome obstacles. You may want to have someone write who can speak well of what you have done outside the classroom, but is related to what you indicate is of importance to you in your application. If leadership or community service is important to you, you could have a sponsor of an organization write about your role in that group.

Cyndy McDonaldCyndy McDonald
Higher Educational Consultants Association (HECA)

You should have someone who knows you really well to write your letter of recommendations. Use the following rule of thumb as a guide to asking for letters of recommendations:

  1. Core academic teachers that you have had in junior and senior years
  2. Academic teachers you have had for four years (band, foreign language, art, etc.)
  3. Elective teachers you have had for four years (student government, newspaper, physical education)
  4. Coaches who have known you for four years or less
  5. Advisors who have known you more than one year (clubs, activities, etc.)
  6. Community people who know you well (church or other community members)

Do not ask your parents or your relatives to write letters. Do not ask “someone important” either, unless they know you very well. A letter from a city counselor that says “ Johnny is a great person; admit him to your school” does not impress colleges. They want to learn more about you through the letters others write about you.

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