How To Get a Letter of Recommendation

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 16, 2021 | Published April 17, 2020

Updated March 16, 2021

Published April 17, 2020

Related: How To Ask for a Recommendation Letter for College or Work: 3 Key Steps

Jenn, a certified career coach at Indeed, shares her recommended approach for requesting a recommendation letter.

When you apply for college or graduate school, you may have to submit a letter of recommendation. A letter of recommendation can help you gain acceptance, and it allows admissions offices to assess your potential success at their institution. In this article, we discuss what a letter of recommendation is and how to get one and provide tips to help you ask for a recommendation letter.

Related: Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a document written by an individual who evaluates you based on your accomplishments, personality, qualities and ability to perform certain tasks. Various parties such as employers, colleagues or professors can write letters of recommendation to vouch for your skills, aptitude and overall work or academic performance. Hiring managers or college admissions offices receive these letters and determine if you're a good fit for their company or school. For admission officers, letters of recommendation provide them with information about you that test scores and grades cannot.

Related: What Is a Letter of Recommendation?

How to get a letter of recommendation

A strong letter of recommendation can increase your chances of gaining acceptance into college or graduate school. When you ask for a letter of recommendation, it's important to remain professional, be considerate of the writer's time and display your genuine passion and interest in getting accepted. Follow these steps to receive a letter of recommendation:

  1. Decide on a reputable person to ask.

  2. Schedule a brief meeting.

  3. Give them ample time.

  4. Follow up with an email.

  5. Thank your recommendation writer.

1. Decide on a reputable person to ask

Find someone able to speak confidently, accurately and honestly about your talents and abilities. This person needs to give you a strong endorsement for you to reap the benefits. The writer of your letter needs to be familiar with your work, have time to write the letter and be reputable.

Some programs require you to ask a faculty member rather than a high school teacher, friend or family member. Review your application's specifications and follow them accordingly.

2. Schedule a brief meeting

Once you know who you want to ask, send them an email asking if they have a few minutes to chat with you. Set up a time to meet, and arrive on time. Scheduling a time to meet ensures they have time to devote to you and your needs. It also prevents you from interrupting them if you planned on asking them before class.

3. Give them ample time

Ask for a letter of recommendation no less than two weeks before your application deadline. This gives your writer ample time to write it and make changes if needed so that you can feel secure about getting your application together on time. When you give them more time to write a letter, it increases your chances of receiving a quality recommendation.

If possible, aim to ask for a letter in person as it displays your professionalism and seriousness. If an in-person visit isn't an option, you can ask for a letter of recommendation via email.

Related: How To Request a Recommendation Letter From an Employer

4. Follow up with an email

After your in-person meeting, thank your recommender via email to display your professionalism and gratitude. It also reminds them of your request and gives you a chance to provide them with materials and resources to aid their writing. For example, sending them copies of your resume, portfolio or application can help them create a stronger letter that's more specific to your skills and experience. This also gives them a clearer understanding of your passion and abilities.

Here are some resources you can provide them with:

  • Your resume

  • Your personal statement

  • Your portfolio

  • Your application

  • List of colleges you're applying to, their addresses and relevant departments, scholarships or programs

  • The recommendation form they need to complete

  • A stamped, addressed envelope in case they have to submit a letter to an admissions office

  • Your contact information

Be sure to include the degree name and the degree path you're on. If you're asking a former professor, it may also be beneficial to remind them of the courses you took with them, what you learned and your class participation. They'd also benefit from knowing any challenges you've had to overcome and what projects you're proud of.

Related: How To Write a Letter of Recommendation (With Examples)

5. Thank your recommendation writer

Send your recommendation writer a handwritten thank you note that expresses your gratitude. You can also send them an email thank you, though a handwritten note better displays your thoughtfulness. Ensure they feel appreciated and know how much they've helped you advance in your educational career. This shows your professionalism and can increase your chances of receiving their help later.

Related: How To Ask for a Letter of Recommendation: Steps, Template and Example

Tips for getting a letter of recommendation

  • Provide your strengths as a guide. When you thank someone for writing your letter of recommendation, consider the qualities you want to highlight to the admissions office. For example, you can tell them, "I know the admissions office is looking for candidates with research and organization skills." This lets the writer know you'd like these skills highlighted in the letter.

  • Ask alone. If you and a classmate plan to ask the same teacher, ask them on your own. This allows them to respond to your request without feeling obligated to answer a certain way because someone else asked them the same thing at the same time. Plus, you want your letter to be individualized to you and not perceived as a joint venture either in its inception or the ultimate product.

  • Ask politely. When you ask for a letter of recommendation, it's important to be cordial and respectful. This can increase your chances of getting a favorable letter and make it easier for you to ask them for another letter later on.

  • Waive your right to view the recommendation. When you submit your application, waiving your right to view the letter someone wrote about you shows your professionalism and helps you gain the trust of application officers.

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