ETIQUETTE FOR ASKING FOR A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION

During your time at school the chances are high that you will need to ask someone for a letter of recommendation [for college, a scholarship, a job, an internship, etc.] You want to get the best letter you can, because you will competing with other students. These are some ideas about how you can best do this.

Put thought into your choice of a reference. Ask someone you know, and ask someone who knows you. Not every teacher can write about you. Don‟t ask an instructor to write a letter if you’ve been disruptive in his or her class. At the beginning of trimeters, try to visit all of your teachers during flex-time or after school for a private visit so that they will begin to know who you are.

Ask early. If at all possible, allow four weeks before the letter is due. Everyone understands that emergencies happen, and four weeks is not always possible. However, it is always best. A hurried letter is not likely to be as thoughtful or enthusiastic as is a considered one.

Be prepared for the teacher to say, “no” to your request. This is not the likely scenario, but there are reasons why you might get the “no.‟ The teacher may be too busy to give you adequate time. Perhaps he or she remembers you as the person who was always late, and feels that you could get a stronger letter elsewhere.

Provide the teacher with complete, written information about yourself and the thing for which you are applying. Information about yourself would include your name, contact information, and at least a brief summary of your activities in areas such as academics, service, and school involvement. If you haven’t seen the teacher for a year, bring him or her up to date on what you have done.

Information about the college/scholarship/job would include things such as criteria, the focus of the scholarship [service, academic, etc.], the name of the person or group to whom the letter should be addressed, and the deadline.

Teachers need this information because they take the time to shape the letters for the particular audience. A letter that might work in one context will not be strong in another, and letters addressed “to whom it might concern” are seldom effective.

Plan on visiting the teacher in person to make your request. You’re asking for a favor from the teacher, not ordering pizza. This brief interview helps the teacher form a stronger idea of who you are and what the letter should emphasize.

After the process is over, send a thank-you note and little something to the teacher. This acknowledges the time the teacher spent [thirty minutes to an hour or more]. It also paves the way for you should you need to ask for another letter a year later.

Let the teacher know the result of your application. This can be done informally, through a phone call or email, but you have now piqued the teacher’s interest, so you don’t just want to disappear!


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