How To Request a Letter of Recommendation for College
Updated September 25, 2023
Colleges and universities usually require one or more letters of recommendation to be submitted with an application for admission. Teachers, coaches or employers usually write these letters to highlight a student's accomplishments and help them get accepted to that institution. If you're applying to college or for scholarships, you might benefit from learning how to request a letter of recommendation.
In this article, we explain how to ask for a letter of recommendation for college and what your request should include, then provide two sample requests to help you compose your own.
What is a letter of recommendation for college?
A letter of recommendation for college is a document endorsing a potential student's qualities and skills that accompanies a college application. You can often refer to the school's admissions website or even reach out to the admissions department to discover what information your letter should contain and how you can submit it, such as a handwritten letter or via email. You can use this information to properly request a letter of recommendation from your teacher, academic advisor, coach, employer, mentor or another reference you want to write your recommendation.
The illustration shows a laptop opened on a desk with a notebook and pen. The headline on the image says, "Recommendation Letter Format"
On the screen of the laptop is a plain representation of a letter, created with a white background and blue lines. On both sides of the letter, there are points that identify key parts of a recommendation letter. The list of key parts are:
1. Introduction and statement of recommendation
2. List of specific reasons you are recommending them to the position
3. Personal story with evidence of their qualities (soft and hard skills)
4. Closing statement with contact information
How to request a letter of recommendation
Use these steps to help you include all of the necessary details to request a letter of recommendation for college:
1. Compile a list of possible references
There's often a schedule for college and scholarship applications, so start compiling your list of possible references two months before the deadline. This gives you time to reach out to your references in case one of your choices is unavailable and you have to choose another. When you have a list of the people who you think can provide the strongest endorsement of your skills, goals and passions for your intended school or program, reach out to your preferred reference to ask if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation in their preferred method of communication.
Once your reference agrees, you can tell them when and how you plan on sending your formal request. You can also ask how they'd prefer to receive your formal request. Provide a specific date they can expect your request to ensure they look for it to arrive.
2. Submit a formal request
Once you have chosen your references and have a list of letter writers, send them a formal letter of request. You can submit this request through their preferred method of contact—letter or email—to provide your reference with the following information:
University or program details: Include the name of the school and program to which you are applying. Your reference can use this information to appropriately address the letter and tailor their reference to illustrate how you are a highly qualified prospective student for that school.
Your reason for applying to the university: Inform your reference of why you chose this specific school or program and what you hope to gain from your experience there. This information can help your reference better demonstrate your suitability in their letter.
Your relationship: You can also ask your reference to provide a story or anecdote from your experience together that illustrates how your performance relates to your academic goals. Make it clear why you want this particular person to be your reference and why their insight is valuable to your academic goals.
Relevant experience: Mention your GPA and clubs or sports you participate in to provide your reference with more information about your interests and qualifications. You can also inform your reference of any activities you plan to continue in college so they can discuss other ways you and the college can both benefit.
Qualities you want them to highlight: Discuss a few of the skills, experiences and characteristics you possess that would make you a strong student at your intended university. This information can enable your reference to outline your academic and personal traits and better emphasize your strengths.
Submission deadline: Remind your reference of your application's deadline. You can also provide them an earlier deadline to submit their reference before the final application date to ensure you can submit your application on time.
3. Provide supporting documents
If you have job experience, provide your reference with a copy of your current resume so they can better describe your experience, growth and accomplishments in their letter. You can also enclose your high school transcripts and a list of your awards or special honors to showcase your growth and potential, which your reference can then demonstrate in their letter.
If you are required to submit a personal statement with your college application, consider including that document with your formal request to provide your reference more information about why you chose this school or program and the goals you may set if you're accepted.
4. Clarify submission instructions
Remind your references of the timelines and requirements for submitting the letter of recommendation. Be specific when citing dates or time frames for completing and submitting the letter, and include detailed submission instructions. Some colleges request that the reference submit their letter of recommendation directly, while others may require you to relay the information.
5. Thank your reference
It's important and polite to thank your reference for their contribution to your goals. After they submit the letter, send them a thank you note and update them on your admission status. This step is a polite and professional gesture that can help you strengthen your relationship with your reference.
Template for a college letter of recommendation
Here is a template you can use to create your own college letter of recommendation.
Dear Admissions Officer,
It's my pleasure to extend my highest recommendation for [candidate's name] for admittance to the [program name] at [name of college] for the [year] school year.
I'm a [your position] at [your place of employment.] I've known [candidate's first name] for [number] years since we first met [brief explanation of the meeting.] All of us at [your place of employment] are proud of [candidate's first name] during this pivotal moment in [candidate's pronoun] life, and I'm honored to write this letter on [candidate's pronoun] behalf.
During [candidate's pronoun] time at [place that you know the candidate from], [candidate's first name] has shown [positive skill or quality] and [positive skill or quality] in both [potential area of interest to the admissions officer] and [potential area of interest to the admissions officer.] [Candidate's pronoun] [positive skill or quality] earned [candidate's first name] a [award, accolade or general praise], and [candidate's pronoun] [positive skill or quality] helped [candidate's pronoun] to achieve [award, accolade or general praise.]
[Candidate's name in possessive form] [positive attribute] is very impressive. [Elaborate on a key trait this individual possesses by giving a significant personal example.]
I'm absolutely confident that [candidate's first name] is a great fit in the [program name] at [name of college or university.] [Candidate's pronoun] is a [positive attribute] with a [another positive attribute.] I don't doubt that [candidate's first name] will be a positive influence on others in the program at [name of college or university.] If you have any questions about the time I spent as a [your relationship to the candidate] for [candidate's formal title and last name], please reach out to me. I'm happy to discuss this further.
[Place of employment]
To upload the template into Google Docs, go to File > Open > and select the correct downloaded file.
Example request to a teacher
If you don't have their email address, you might choose to write a physical letter to a teacher or other academic professional to ask for a recommendation letter. You can also use this format to craft a letter request to an employer or another professional reference:
824 Oldton St.
Los Angeles, California 49943
September 1, 2022
To: Mrs. Serena Waters
Suncoast High School
Los Angeles, California 49943
456 Suncoast Blvd.
Dear Mrs. Waters,
As part of the prerequisites for acceptance to Bernard College, I have been asked to provide a letter of recommendation. I would greatly appreciate it if you can write this letter for me, with particular comments regarding our student-teacher relationship and my assistance to you during the past two semesters.
We worked together for some time on that networking project. Since you were pleased with how quickly I learned and accepted responsibilities, I'm hoping you can share that experience in your letter to Bernard College to focus on my dedication and passion for programming.
I'm including my transcripts with my current GPA as well as information on my membership roles in the IT and math clubs. You can also find a copy of my college application to make it easy for you to write the letter and submit it to the admissions office by email. The deadline for submitting the letter is September 30, 2022. If you are unable to provide a letter, please let me know within one week from the date of this request.
I know how busy you are, and I thank you in advance for your time. If there's any other information I can provide, please contact me at the phone number or email address at the top of this letter.
Example request to an employer
You may also send an email to an employer for a letter of recommendation. You can also use this format to craft an email request to a teacher or other educational reference:
Subject: Letter of Recommendation — Sylvia Rodriguez
Dear Mr. Cooper,
I'm reaching out to ask for a letter of recommendation to accompany my application to Stevens University, where I am planning to study business management. I realize that you're busy, so I appreciate the time it may take you to write this letter.
I learned a lot about managing a small business while working for you at Cooper's Donuts, and I think you can provide insight into my skills that may increase my chances of being accepted to Stevens University. As you know, I was promoted to assistant manager and have gained extensive experience related to the coursework I am pursuing. I hope you can share a story or experience that highlights my accomplishments and strengths.
I have attached a copy of my updated resume and a copy of my application for your review. I have also included details of my job description and a few of my accomplishments while working for Cooper's Donuts. You can also find detailed instructions on how to submit the letter. Please note that the university requires submission by September 30, 2022. Is this a task that you have the time to complete by that date? If not, I understand and thank you for your time and consideration.
If you have any questions or need any further information, please don't hesitate to contact me in any way that is most convenient for you. I would greatly appreciate knowing whether you can accept my request at your earliest convenience.
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