Many college and scholarship applications require recommendation letters. Some specify the recommenders—teachers, employers, or personal acquaintances; others simply indicate the number of recommendations required. Selection committees want to know as much as possible about you. They have objective information—grades, classes, and test scores. They have your application form, résumé, and essay(s). They also want to know how others see you.
Select recommenders who know you well and who can write competently. Well-meaning friends may write glowing comments, but poor grammar and unprofessional appearances make negative impressions. Choose recommenders who will write specific statements about you—not remarks that could apply to any student.
Be polite and appreciative. Allow your recommender plenty of time; requesting a recommendation at the last minute is inconsiderate. People who write the best recommendations are usually very busy. You don’t want one written by someone who feels hurried or is irritated with you.
Provide relevant information so the letter of recommendation will be specifically about you and your qualifications. Indicate the purpose of the recommendation letter. If it is to accompany your college application, provide the college’s name and background information so the recommender can discuss how you are an appropriate candidate. If it is for a scholarship, provide a copy of the application or a description of the scholarship and the sponsoring organization’s mission. Supply a copy of your résumé listing your GPA, activities, leadership roles, awards, community service, employment experience, and special skills.
Help get your letter in the mail by offering an addressed, stamped envelope with each request. If the recommendation must be mailed in an official envelope from the recommender’s institution, supply a postage stamp. A letter that is to be submitted with the application should be returned to you in a sealed envelope.
Have your recommenders save their letters if you’re applying to several colleges or for several scholarships. Although each college recommendation letter should be tailored to the application at hand, the original passage contains basically what the recommender wants to share about you. Revising an original recommendation is more convenient than writing a new one.
Thank your recommender—preferably in writing! Surprisingly, few students express their appreciation for recommendations. Expressing your gratitude is appropriate and advisable. If you weren’t appreciative the first time, the recommender may be reluctant to help you when you ask for another college recommendation letter. If you receive the acceptance or the award, thank the recommender again, for contributing to your success.