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Get Recommended! A deep dive into obtaining a letter of recommendation

Though the origin of asking for letters of recommendation is not exactly known, historians can trace the practice back to Renaissance and medieval universities. It has been a long-standing tradition to have respected professionals and scholars vouch for an applicant's qualifications and/or character for their respective pursuits. Over time, like everything it seems in the college application process, the way we recommend has evolved.

Asking someone who knows you for a recommendation seems easy enough, right? Well… kinda. Below are tips to complicate, did I say that? I meant, clarify! The one almost totally hands-off aspect of applying for college.

Choose Wisely

This is the most important tip because you won’t see the recommendations submitted electronically. You need to trust that the person you ask will highlight the best parts of your character and ability for the path you are set to pursue. They should be someone who advocates for you, not opposes you. To that end, if you ask someone and they give you any cause for trepidation, thank them for the consideration and move on. For example, you ask your new teacher, and they say, “I think you should ask someone who knows you better.” Or you ask a teacher, and they say, “I don’t know if I will write you a favorable recommendation,” believe them and move on to someone else.

Keep It Focused

Almost always, the recommendations are a guidance counselor (this is typically mandatory), a teacher, and an optional recommender of your choice. Hence, you need to be strategic in who you ask. This is a very important yet simple shift of focus when considering which teacher to ask. If you intend on majoring in engineering, you should 100% be asking an engineering teacher to write the recommendation. If you can’t for whatever reason (maybe they left your school, so access is an issue), think of someone else close to that field (like a past science teacher) that you can ask. The next could be a coach if you want, or another teacher (subject does not matter) for the optional as long as you are “choosing wisely.”

Give Time

This is very simple and common sense, I hope. It is very unprofessional to ask for a recommendation and expect it to be done in a week or less. Give your recommenders ample time to write the recommendation you need and deserve. This will demonstrate very intentional planning, which can improve that letter because you have exercised great time management skills and thoughtfulness.

Face to Face

When asking the professionals you have selected to write your recommendation, it is imperative that you ask them face to face, zoom to zoom, or over the phone in a conversation (if physical space is an issue). Do not email, do not text, and DO NOT have your parents ask for you. Is it difficult to ask someone for something this personal, it can be, but in this situation, it is necessary. You can practice the process of asking with a parent or the IEC you are working with. I have practiced asking with my clients to help eliminate the nerves, but it must be done. After you have asked face-to-face, consider sending a simple thank you email to follow up. Be sure to ask if they would like a digital copy of your newest resume to help in the process.

If you would like more tips for recommendation letters, a cover letter to email as a follow-up, or someone to practice with, book a free consultation with us today.

Rebecca Stone, your trusted certified independent education consultant with 15 years of experience in college guidance, dedicated to empowering students to reach their academic dreams.

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