By Ellen Bremen, M.A.
Have you ever seen one of those circus acts where an acrobat jumps on a trampoline and then lands on another acrobat’s shoulders? Then yet another acrobat (we’ll call this one #3) jumps and flips himself on to the shoulders of acrobat #2. Before the act is over, the “anchor” acrobat might carry up to four others on his back!
The teachers who know your work, who believe in you as a person, who support your goals and success are the ones you want to carry on your shoulders. Picture letters of recommendation from those teachers like the acrobats: The teachers may not be there in person when you are mailing off college applications or sitting in college interviews, but you will carry their positive words about your character and your work on your shoulders.
But how do you start the conversation and ask for those college recommendations? Follow these five steps:
1. Pick teachers who know you well, whose classes you’ve excelled in, and whose assignments gave you not just “work”, but specific experiences the teacher can speak about.
2. Ask early. You want to give your teacher no less than two weeks to write your letter, and, if possible, more time is always appreciated.
3. Ask directly both with your words and the way you make your request: Make direct eye contact and say, “Mr. Jones, you have given me many opportunities to succeed in this class and my grades have been strong. I feel that you really know me and my work. I would so appreciate it if you’d write a letter to support my admission to Chosen University/College.” (You can also ask for letters of support for scholarships).
4. If the teacher agrees, take charge of your next steps:
a. Say, “I will give you the addresses and requirements for the letter, along with who it needs to be addressed to tomorrow.” Also include a pre-addressed envelope or special mailing requirements, such as if the letter needs to be sealed with the teacher’s name across the back—some colleges require this to make sure you haven’t tampered with the letter. You can also ask, “What else do you need from me to
write the letter?”
b. Then say, “My goal is to mail this letter by February 24th. Does this date work for you?” You may also need to tell the teacher when he/she needs to mail the letter. You may want to set the teacher’s deadline slightly ahead of yours in case the teacher forgets.
5. It is acceptable for you to check in with the teacher a few days before your deadline. Say, “I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you writing the letter of recommendation for me. Are we still on track for my submission on February 24th?”
By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to getting the college recommendation letters you need to get into the college of your dreams. For more advice on getting into your first choice college, check out these tips for rocking the college application. And remember, we’re bringing you college admissions advice every week, so subscribe to our blog today!
About the Author
Ellen Bremen, known as the Chatty Professor on her blog, is tenured faculty in the Communication Studies department at Highline Community College (since 2004), outside of Seattle, Washington. She is currently finishing a book called Say This, NOT That to Your College Professor: 42 Talking Tips for College Success.
Photo courtesy of Old Shoe Woman.
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