How Do I Ask for Letters of Recommendation?

“I hardly know my teachers, how do I ask for letters of recommendation?”

One of the most daunting parts of college applications is that your success relies on someone else: your teachers’ letters of recommendation. But what if you hardly know your teachers? You don’t even know their first name! And now, you need them to write a whole letter for you?

Fill out your college application

Take a deep breath. Double check their name online or the yearbook. You’ll need that to fill out the college application form—because you are going to get those letters of recommendation. 

Make a list

Make a list of the teachers you’ve had or will have in your junior year and fall semester of senior year. Typically college applications ask for two to three recommendations, so this is going to be a process of elimination. 

To start narrowing the list, yourself: Are there any teachers with whom you already have a good student-teacher relationship? Those are your front runners. If not, that’s okay; it’s why we’re here. 

But you’ll definitely want to cross off the teachers who you know don’t get along with you. Mr. Brown, who makes snarky remarks on all your papers? He’s gone. Ms. Williams, who forgets you’ve been in her class for the last two years? Gone. 

Looking at who’s left, are there any teachers on that list who you’ve taken more than one class with? Do you have good grades in those classes? As much as you might worry that you’re not the class favorite or teacher’s pet, having good grades and being a consistent student is the most important part. 

Consider other factors

It might also help to consider if there are any subjects you’re particularly drawn to, or have performed well in over the years. Teachers talk among themselves and if you’ve become known as a history-leaning student or a math-leaning student, it helps to have some backup.

At this point, you should have at least two or three teachers that you feel okay with. You barely know them, but at least you have some targets in mind. Now, hear me out: You will have to go talk to them. 

Chat with your teacher

If they have office hours or even if they’re still around after school, ask if they have some time to chat—even for 15 minutes—about college and your plans after high school. Tell them if you have any extracurriculars outside of class, what your interests are, and let them know about your goals for college. You don’t have to be best friends with your teacher or babysit their kid. But it does take some opening up and showing that you care about your academic career.

Ask!

I know, it’s scary! But, keep in mind, a lot of teachers will be expecting their students to ask for letters of recommendation, so this isn’t new for them. And if it is new for them, then you stand out more as an outgoing student. This is a win-win situation no matter which way you read it. 

And when it’s time, don’t forget to ask for that letter! You’ll want to ask about a month in advance of when they are due, so get started!

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