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Rec Letters Tip Sheet

When to ask for them:

Formal requests for teacher and counselor letters take place in the fall of senior year. Ideally, you’ll request the letters during the month of September and no later than early October. You’ll need to give your teachers and counselor a minimum of three weeks advanced notice before the application due date. Most importantly: know your teachers’ expectations. Many teachers and counselors impose their own deadlines for requests, and some even limit the number of letters they’ll write each year, so the earlier you make your requests, the better.

Whom to ask:

Most colleges ask for 1-2 teacher recommendation letters and one counselor recommendation letter. College admissions officers prefer to read letters from teachers in your sophomore and junior years – not freshmen or senior years – who can provide a strong indication of what type of college student you’re likely to become. Choose two teachers from your core classes (English, Math, Science, Social Science, and Language). If you’re applying to a visual/performing arts program, you will likely need a letter from someone in that field. They should be teachers who know you well and are able to describe your abilities as a student, as well as your classroom behavior.

What to provide:

Most recommendation letters are submitted online. For example, the Common Application asks you to enter the email addresses of your teachers and counselor and sends them an electronic request. Make sure you have asked your teachers in person before submitting your official requests online! Other colleges require hard copies of recommendation forms and letters, and it’s your job to collect those items and deliver them to your teachers and counselor. After you’ve made your requests, hand each teacher and counselor the following:

  1. A short note, thanking them for writing you a recommendation letter.
  2. Your list of colleges, including their application due dates.
  3. Any required hard copies of recommendation forms, including their corresponding addressed and stamped mailing envelopes.
  4. Your college résumé.
  5. Any additional forms your school requires seniors to fill out.

Important Points:

  • Don’t automatically assume that you should choose teachers who gave you A’s to write your rec letters. Choose the teachers who know you. The teachers who watched you struggle as a student and work really hard to earn that B might end up writing you a better letter. In the end, go with the teachers who know you best – as a student and as a person.
  • There is a section on the Common Application recommendation form that asks if you want to “waive your right to access the recommendation.” ALWAYS check “yes” and waive your rights. Otherwise, colleges will be suspicious of the authenticity of the content.
  • After you’ve submitted your applications, check in with your teachers and counselors to make sure they submitted their recommendation letters. Once your application file is complete, be sure to send them a handwritten thank you card.