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Who Should I Ask to Write My College Recommendation Letters?

College applications stressing you out? Recommendation letters are the easiest part! Use the following rules of thumb as a guide to asking for them.

Cyndy McDonaldCyndy McDonald
Higher Educational Consultants Association (HECA)

You should have people who know you really well write your letters of recommendation. Use the following rules of thumb as a guide to asking for letters of recommendation:

  • Core academic teachers you have had your junior and senior years of high school
  • Academic teachers you have had for four years (band, foreign language, art, etc.)
  • Elective teachers you have had for four years (student government, newspaper, physical education, etc.)
  • Coaches who have known you for four years or less
  • Advisors who have known you more than one year (through clubs, activities, etc.)
  • 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 vague 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 who you really are through these letters; they aren't looking for impressive VIP recommenders.

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

Ideally, your college recommendation letters should come from high school teachers who know you well in an academic subject. And though it’s nice to hear that you got an A in their class, 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 class 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 colleges 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 letter will speak volumes more than several vague ones ever could.

Silhouette of person sitting at desk with laptopNancy G. McDuff
Associate Vice President for Admissions and Enrollment Management

The University of Georgia

Always ask someone who knows you well to write your recommendation letters. 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 admission 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 say is of importance to you in your college application. For example, if leadership or community service is important to you, you could have a sponsor of an organization write about your role in a volunteering group.

Francesca MorrisseyFrancesca Morrissey
Founder & College Consultant
Access Success LLC
Back in the day, you used to hear that one letter of recommendation should come from a humanities teacher and one from a STEM teacher. This is no longer the case. The most important thing when choosing your recommenders is to choose people who know you well—both in and out of the classroom. There are some other guidelines as well: You should only ask teachers you've had during junior and senior year of high school and preferably one you've had more than once. But the teachers you choose should still be core subject teachers—math, science, history, English, or foreign language. Colleges will also require a letter of recommendation from your high school counselor, which makes it important to foster a relationship with them throughout your high school experience. Letters of recommendation should be sought before the end of junior year, and you should always ask in person. Also let your recommenders know your submission plans. For example, if you're applying Early Decision or Early Action, your recommender should have your letter ready by early to mid-October. And it doesn't hurt to send an email reminder in August, along with a thank you. Bottom line: ask people who know you well and ask early!

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