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How to get a strong recommendation letter

Updated: Apr 22, 2021


For Freshman, Sophomores, & Juniors:

  • Focus on developing strong mentor-mentee relationships with your teachers

  • Be engaged in class

  • More tips here

For Seniors:

  • Give your teacher at least 3 weeks notice before the deadline

  • Use the email template at timestamp 11:25 here

  • Offer to send your resume as a reference for your teacher

  • After your teacher submits the recommendation letter, give them a handwritten thank you card


Recommendation letters are a HUGE part of your college (or internship) application. A recommendation letter is one of the only third-party perspectives admission officers will have about you. You want that perspective to be as positive as possible. Admission officers will look to these letters to see how you operate in a classroom setting, whether you demonstrate intellectual curiosity, your involvement in the school community and beyond, and much more. You can read about this in detail at the Common App's website.

FYI: Recommendation letters are often referred to as "support" in admission files, like the comments made in my admission file. Based on Harvard's admission process, recommendation letters can significantly impact your chances of admission.    

Incoming freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, start building a strong mentor-mentee relationship with your teachers. This will make it much easier down the line to ask for a strong recommendation letter. If you're not sure how to build a strong mentor-mentee relationship, check out this video where I provide specific steps you can follow.

Building a good relationship with your teachers is a very important skill to have, even in your adult life. When you get a job, you'll report to managers. The stronger your relationship with your manager is, the easier it'll be for you to get a promotion and progress in your career.

Seniors, here's how to get a letter: Simply ask. If you're applying to college in the fall, give your teachers at least one month before the deadline to write the letter. You can get a recommendation letter from three main sources: (1) your college counselor, (2) one of your school teachers, and (3) an instructor or coach from your extracurricular activities. Try to diversify your recommendation letters. Ask one STEM teacher and ask one humanities teacher. This demonstrates to colleges that you are a well-rounded candidate. Ideally, you will also ask a teacher you have had junior or senior year.

After you ask for a letter, it's best practice to send your teacher information that will help them write a strong recommendation letter for you. Examples are your resume, drafts of your college essays, or a snippet of your arts supplement or athletic feats. Sometimes, a teacher will even ask you to complete a brief form with questions about you and your interests or invite you to a quick coffee chat (or in today's case, a Zoom chat).  

After your teacher submitted your recommendation letter, send them a handwritten thank you card. This doesn't directly increase your chances of college admission, but building the habit of saying "thank you" will lead you to success and help you maintain a strong relationship with your mentor. Be careful not to send them the thank you note before they have submitted the recommendation letter, or else your note and any gifts you include may seem like bribery (yikes).   

I shared more details (including a template email for asking for a recommendation letter!) in this YouTube video.

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