Do You Need a Letter of Recommendation for College?

Most colleges require one or two letters of recommendation from teachers in support of a student’s college application.  Before asking a teacher, look over your college list and review admission requirements.  There are colleges that do not want letters and colleges that will only accept one letter. Identify which colleges require letters of recommendation and how many they accept.  Generally students ask no more than two teachers for recommendation letters.

Who should you ask?  Start with an academic teacher from junior year.  Teachers from freshman or sophomore year may not be able to speak to your current academic performance.  Teachers from senior year will not have had you long enough to know you well. A good rule of thumb is to ask a teacher from math or science along with a humanities teacher.  This provides colleges with insight  into a student’s overall performance.

Requesting a letter of recommendation should typically be done in person, but with some schools not yet back in session due to COVID, students may need to email their teachers.  As school years are coming to a close, now is a great time to ask.  If a teacher is unwilling to write you a letter of recommendation, that is okay!  Try not to take it personally.  Your teacher may be declining to write you a letter because they already have too many to write.  

Once your teacher agrees to write a letter on your behalf, check to see if they need anything from you or if they would like to speak or meet with you prior to writing your letter.  Share your earliest college deadline with them so your letter is completed in a timely manner.  Do not expect your teacher to share your letter of recommendation with you.  Letters are sent directly to the college.  Depending on your high school, you will invite your teacher to submit their letter via a link to your college application or through Naviance if your high school uses it.

Your guidance counselor will also write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.  Although most guidance counselors will automatically write a letter for the students on their caseload, you should still request a letter from your counselor and ask if they need any information from you.  If you have not met with your guidance counselor that often or have a new guidance counselor, put together a resume highlighting activities and accomplishments during your high school career.  If you encountered any difficulties in high school that impacted your academic performance or ability to participate in extracurricular activities, be sure to share this with your counselor so they can address this in the letter of recommendation.  As with your teacher’s letters of recommendation, be sure to let your counselor know your earliest application deadline.

Over the summer and again before the start of the new school year, check in with your teachers and guidance counselor.  Thank them for agreeing to write you a recommendation letter, update them on how you’ve spent your summer, and remind them of your college deadlines.  Once you’ve submitted your applications be sure to write your teachers and guidance counselor a thank you note for their support.  As you get acceptance letters from colleges, share your good news with those who have helped you through the process!

If you have a rising senior, set aside time each week this summer to work on college application materials.  Discover essential tools for completing applications and writing memorable essays at the Tools to Get Ahead: College Application & Essay Webinar on Tuesday, June 15 at 6:30 pm EDT.  The first 20 people who register are eligible to receive a 30 minute complimentary consultation to help you and your future college student get started!  Register now!


Leave a Reply