It’s come…the moment we have all been dreading since summer vacation began: back-to-school season.
Why oh why did this day have to come?
While I’m not heading back to class like I usually am this time of year (thanks to the Disney College Program!), I do want to continue providing tips for those who are college bound or currently in college. And since August means the start of college application season, I thought a post all about recommendation letters would be in order, no matter whether you’re applying to college, grad school, scholarships, or an internship. (Or whatever else you’re working towards!)
Believe me, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to recommendation letters; I’ve requested and received too many to count. Not only were they for colleges and scholarships, but I was requesting them as early as my junior year of high school to get into two selective summer programs, which means that I have perfected the method of getting the best possible recommendation letters possible. And to help you with whatever goal you’re working towards, I’ve decided to pass those tips along to you!
Step One: Decide Who to Ask
While many students think that the only thing that matters is the content of the letter (and believe me, that is a HUGE factor), it’s just as important to take into account who you should ask for the recommendation; it is NOT just about asking your favorite teacher or supervisor. For school, take into consideration which classes and teachers have challenged you. These teachers are going to see the effort you put forth in their class, and that gives them something extra to write about in a letter of recommendation, especially if you stay for extra help, ask plenty of questions in class, and do the extra credit.
It’s also important to take into account who the recommendation letter is going to. Is the letter for a Biology scholarship? Have a science teacher write the recommendation letter. Is it for an internship? Have a former employer that you interned with (or, if you haven’t interned before, a teacher who’s class content aligns with the internship) write the letter. This will help your recommendation letter stand out much more to those who will be reading it.
Step Two: Write a Letter Requesting the Recommendation
It doesn’t matter how great you get along with your teacher or how long you’ve known them: the first step is always to write a formal letter. Even though it may seem a little bit awkward at first, it is worse to not write a letter and instead just ask the teacher in-person for a recommendation letter by a certain date; doing that makes you look unprofessional and they’re likely to forget. By writing the teacher a letter, you are giving your teacher something material to look at and reference while writing their recommendation. (Don’t worry, it only needs to be a paragraph or two.)
Step Three: (In the Letter) Introduce Yourself and Request the Recommendation
Even though the teacher may know you really well, they often have hundreds of students and it can become easy to get the details, achievements, and stories of their students mixed up. Tell them what you need the letter of recommendation for (college, scholarship, etc.) and ask if they would be willing to take the time out of their busy schedules write you one. If the college/scholarship/job requires that the letter be submitted electronically by the teacher, make sure to give them the link and the deadline so that there’s no last-minute confusion. If you need a paper copy, request that it is in a sealed envelope the teacher’s signature across the seal; doing this ensures the college/organization that you are submitting the letter to that you have not read the letter, which many of them prefer.
And remember, ALWAYS request the letter at least two weeks before the deadline, but the earlier the better. Teachers get so many requests for recommendation letters that it’s easy for them to get behind and then rush through writing them, so ask early to make sure you get the best letter possible.
Step Three: Specify How Long It Needs To Be
When requesting a letter of recommendation, the first question my teachers ask me is, “How long does it need to be?”
Some organizations may specify a preference, but in most cases it’s up to you and the teacher. It needs to be long enough to where the organization can get a good understanding as to why you’re the best candidate, but it also needs to be short enough to where it’s not overdone. It’s all about finding that happy medium.
You may ask why this step is even necessary. After all, wouldn’t a teacher write enough recommendation letters to know how long they need to be? Well, yes and no. The length of the recommendation letter can vary from student-to-student, what the recommendation is needed for, and whether the requesting organization has guidelines for the letter. But even without this, you need to request at least a certain amount in order to make sure that you have a good-quality letter to submit.
I once received a recommendation letter that was only 2 or 3 sentences long, not because I didn’t submit a portfolio or wasn’t excelling in the class, but because I didn’t specify how long it needed to be; I have no doubt that this had a negative impact on me for the scholarship I was applying to receive. So do yourself a favor and throw in a minimal word count, page count, or something that will ensure that you will receive a good-quality recommendation letter.
Step Four: Attach Your Portfolio and Resume
Your portfolio should consist of a list of student activities, awards/honors, community service, work history, etc. If you want, write a small description by each of what you did, your responsibilities, and why it was important. If you are applying for an art scholarship or to an art program, be sure to print off good quality pictures of your artwork to attach to the letter. By including a portfolio, you are giving the teacher a list of different things that he/she can talk about in the letter, which strengthens its quality. To read more about how to craft the perfect portfolio, check out this blog post.
Step 5: Request Additional Copies of the Recommendation Letter
My final tip is to always request additional extra copies of the recommendation letter, just in case you ever need a recommendation letter last minute. I cannot tell you how many times having extra copies of the recommendation letters helped both me and my teachers (especially since I was constantly apply to scholarships) so that I wasn’t coming to them every single time I needed a recommendation letter; just make sure that the teacher addresses it “To whom this may concern”, rather than a specific college or organization.
Oh, in case you don’t believe me about how important requesting additional copies is, let me tell you a story. Last year I was applying to a scholarship and although I had read the requirements several times, I didn’t see that it needed 2 recommendation letters until the day I was going to send it, which was the absolute LAST day to have it postmarked by. Luckily, I didn’t need to freak out because I had extra copies of recommendation letters on hand in my scholarship binder. All I had to do was grab a couple of them and I was good to go!
And you know what? I ended up receiving that scholarship, which was worth FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!!! Imagine if I hadn’t had those extra recommendation letters on hand!
By following these tips, I have received so many incredible recommendation letters, which have gotten me accepted into summer programs, colleges, given me scholarships, and so much more. Many of the incredible opportunities I have been given are because of these recommendation letters, so they’re definitely not something to just skip over or not invest your time in.
Do you have any tips or tricks that you use when requesting letters of recommendation? Let me know down below!