How to Get Strong Letters of Recommendation For College

By Ashley McCarrick

An important yet confusing part of the college application process is requesting letters of recommendation. College requirements and high school processes vary, but it’s your responsibility to request letters of recommendation. Following these tips will help your letters showcase your strengths and potential.

Why are letters of recommendation important for college admissions?

Recommendation letters give personal accounts of your accomplishments and character from people who have watched you grow during high school. They can also provide valuable information about your background or extenuating circumstances that you may not want to talk about in your essays.

How many letters of recommendation do I need?

Although college requirements vary, aim to secure three letters of recommendation: one from your counselor and two from teachers. Teachers should focus on classroom contributions while your counselor writes a more holistic letter detailing aspects of your academic, personal, social, and extracurricular life. Each college gets to decide the number and type of recommendation letters it requires. Don’t send extra letters if the college doesn’t ask for them.

When should I ask for letters of recommendation?

Most students don’t think about asking for letters until they are working on applications in senior year, but you’ll get stronger letters and make your teachers happier by asking in the spring of 11th grade. They will have time to write your letter over the summer, and you’ll feel less stressed. If you wait until the fall, ask at least one month before the application deadline.

Which teachers should I ask to write letters on my behalf?

Try to ask teachers from core academic areas, preferably one humanities (English, History, etc.) teacher and one math or science teacher from 11th grade. Think about the teachers who know you best, even if you didn’t get an A in the class. A teacher who can write about your class participation, work ethic, and intellectual curiosity will show a college what you’ll contribute to the campus.

Due to the pandemic, many colleges are also open to hearing from a teacher who taught an in-person class in your tenth grade, but double check the colleges’ requirements.

I’m nervous. How should I ask my teachers?

Teachers write many letters each year, resulting in hours of extra work. Honor that time commitment by privately and respectfully asking for letters of recommendation. For example, “Mrs. Jones, I have really enjoyed your class, and I think you know me as a person and as a student. I’ll be applying to college in the fall. Would you be willing to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf?” Don’t forget to say, “Thank you,” if your teacher agrees.

If a teacher doesn’t seem excited about writing a letter of recommendation for you, consider asking another teacher.

What should I give my teacher if he or she agrees to write a letter for me?

Make your teachers’ job easier. Provide a typed “Class Resume” for each teacher that includes why you’re asking him or her, your favorite parts of the class, meaningful contributions you made, and any anecdotes or stories that illustrate your points. For example, if your teacher regularly thanked you for your participation in discussions, mention how grateful you were to be in a collaborative environment that valued your opinions. Instead of focusing on grades, you can also share a favorite project and what you learned from it. Each teacher should get a resume specifically for their class.

If you know the colleges to which you plan to apply, give your recommenders that information along with deadlines. If you’re applying to a specific major or program, you might also want to highlight that for your teacher or counselor.

What should I give my counselor?

For high school counselors, provide a resume that describes your academic, extracurricular, and personal pursuits. You can also mention extenuating circumstances or parts of your story that you hope the counselor will explain in his or her letter, such as a family or medical situation.


You should send two thank-you notes—one when the teacher agrees to write a letter, and a second when you ultimately decide which college to attend. Thanking the people who help you reach your goals is an important life lesson.

Need help applying to colleges?

At KD College Prep, we offer a wide range of college counseling services to help you put your best foot forward. Contact us to sign up for your free consultation.

For more insight on the college application process, check out these 2021 college application tips.

Ashley McCarrick has helped students reach their college goals since 2004 and is the Chief of College Counseling Services at KD College Prep. As a lead member of the College Counseling team, Ashley develops and presents educational programs about the college admissions process and provides individual guidance to parents and students as a college counselor. Ashley is a member of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, Lewisville ISD Advisory Council, and a frequent contributor to the KD College Prep blog.


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