How to Request a Letter of Recommendation for College

By Indeed Editorial Team

December 4, 2020

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 need to ask for letters of recommendation, you should make a formal request and include any necessary information that can help your reference write the letter. In this article, we explain how to ask for a letter of recommendation, what your request should include and 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 it should be submitted, 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.

Recommendation Letter Format

Image description

Recommendation Letter Format

  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

  5. Signature

Read more: Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

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

Your letter of recommendation needs to reach the admissions office by a specific date, so start compiling your list of possible references two months before the deadline. This gives you plenty of 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. You can send a letter to someone who doesn’t often use email, or call to set up an in-person meeting with a reference you see every day. If your reference doesn’t pick up the phone, leave a voicemail to ensure they know how to reach you when they return your call.

Once your reference agrees, you can tell them when they can expect to receive the formal request and what format it will be in. 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.

If they do not agree or do not respond, move to your next preferred reference on the list.

Read more: How to Ask Someone to Be Your Reference: Email Examples

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 you are applying to. If you’re applying to a specific program within that school, provide those details, too. 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: Remind your reference of how you met or came to work together so they can give specific examples in their letter. 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 will both benefit.

  • Qualities you’d like highlighted: 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 your application is completed 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 will set if you’re accepted.

4. Clarify submission instructions

Remind your references of 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. 

  • In-person: If you plan to submit the letter yourself, leave instructions for how to return the letter to you. You can ask them to confirm a date you can pick up the letter in person and then settle location details when they let you know the letter is complete.

  • Email: If the university or college requires submission of the letter through email, include the email address of the admissions office or whoever will process the letter of recommendation. 

  • Mailed Letter: If the letter must be mailed, include the complete mailing address and the name and title of the recipient.

  • Upload: For uploading a letter, give instructions for how or where to locate the dropbox or file upload on the college’s website. Include appropriate file types and formatting instructions if it’s relevant.

5. Thank your reference

Be gracious in your request, and 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.

Read more: Guide to Thank You Notes

Example request to a teacher

The following example is formatted like a mailed letter sent to a teacher for a letter of recommendation. You can also use this format to craft a letter request to an employer or another professional reference.

Paul Lee
824 Old Town Road
(123) 456-7890

Sept. 1, 2019

To: Mrs. Serena Waters
Suncoast High School
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 will write this letter for me, with particular comments in regard to our student-teacher relationship and my assistance to you during the past two semesters. 

We worked together for some time on that networking project, and since you were pleased with how quickly I learned and accepted responsibilities, I am hoping you can share an experience in your letter to Bernard College to focus on my dedication and passion for programming.

I am including my transcripts with my current GPA as well as information on my membership roles in the IT and math clubs. You will 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 Sept. 30, 2019. 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 is any other information I can provide, please contact me at the phone number or email address at the top of this letter.

Paul Lee

Example request to an employer

The following example is formatted like an email sent 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 Mrs. Cooper,

I am 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 are 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 will be able to provide insight into my skills that will 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 will also find detailed instructions on how to submit the letter. Please not that the university requires submission by Sept. 30, 2019. 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.

Sylvia Rodriguez
(123) 456-7890

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