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Asking for a letter of recommendation is intimidating enough when you have to do it in person. Now, with many high schools transitioning to online learning due to COVID-19, you may have to have that conversation through email instead. For some of you, that might be good news, as hitting “send” might feel easier than knocking on your teacher’s door after school. For others, you might feel like you’re missing out on an opportunity to advocate for yourself in person, or worry that your teacher will lose your email in the virtual stack of other emails he or she has to get through each day. Regardless of how you feel about the change in circumstances, your teachers know that this is coming. This year, as with any other year, the right teacher will be more than willing to write a letter of recommendation for you. You just need to learn how to ask appropriately, and we’re here to show you how! 

1. Choose the Right Recommender

For some schools, you may be able to ask a teacher and another recommender, such as a coach, religious leader, or other mentor to write a letter for you. Most commonly though, you’ll need to ask one or two teachers to write your letter of rec. Since this portion of your college application is the only one that is more or less out of your control, you need to make sure the teacher(s) you choose are ones you trust to advocate for you. Here are a few tips to help you determine that:

  • When possible, choose teachers who have known you for more than one academic year. Teachers who can speak to your growth as a student as well as your character will help make you a more attractive applicant.
  •  Select teachers who instruct you in subjects you’re good at and passionate about. Those teachers can help you build your “hook” which demonstrates to colleges that you have unique, specific interests and helps give admissions officers a better idea of how you’d fit in academically at that college. 
  • Avoid choosing teachers you had Freshman year, and try to get teachers who still interact with you now. 
  • Lastly, if that teacher knows you in a nonacademic context (such as if they are also the advisor to your club or have helped you with personal projects outside of school) you should consider asking them to write your letter of rec. They can shed a light on how you are both as a student and person!
  • Given the circumstances, another factor to consider is whether or not this teacher is responsive to emails. If they have a track record of leaving students on read, they might not be the best teacher to ask. You can save this teacher as a back up in the event that your other recommenders fall through and ask them in person at the beginning of the fall semester. 

2. Craft the Perfect Email

Once you’ve chosen whom you want to ask for a letter of recommendation, you can begin working on the email you’ll send them. The word “perfect” here is used very loosely; you should never let perfection morphe into procrastination. Write the best email you can and send it as early as possible! Here’s what a “perfect” email could look like:

Subject: Letter of Recommendation

Dear Mr(s). ____

I hope you and your family are staying healthy and positive during this difficult time! I’m writing to ask if you could write a letter of recommendation for me for my college applications this fall. I plan on applying to [enter school names here] early and [enter school names here] regular decision. I hope you’ll find the time over the next few months to write a letter for me. I’ve attached my resume at the bottom of this email, but please let me know if you need any more materials from me. I’d love to have a phone call or zoom meeting sometime soon to discuss any questions you have! 


Your Name

Attachments: Resume or activities list

Your email should be short and sweet, but also personal and contain any relevant information your teacher might ask for. Send any supplementary materials you expect your teacher would want to see in that initial email to avoid too much back and forth. Make sure your subject line is clear so that your teacher knows it’s important and responds to the email in a timely manner.

3. Respect Their Time and Yours 

Waiting for a response to a request like this one can be anxiety-inducing, and anxiety makes time feel like it’s moving unbearably slowly. With that in mind, you should resist the temptation of following up with your email if your teacher doesn’t reply right away. Respect their time and the fact that they are dealing with adjusting to online instruction, receiving other requests for letters of recommendation, and possibly balancing that with taking care of their children during the day. You should respect your own time too; if you’ve been waiting patiently for a few weeks and still haven’t received a reply, email them again to make sure they received your initial email. If they still don’t get back to you, it might be necessary to return to step one and think about other teachers you could ask for a letter of recommendation. 

As with any other component of the college application process, it’s important to begin asking for letters of recommendation early on. Doing so will increase your chances of getting the best recommender and letter possible. It’s important to stay on track even while everything around you seems to be out of control. So get started asking for letters of recommendation this week so that next semester when things are (hopefully) back to normal, you’ll be in good shape for college applications!


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