Letters of recommendation can be one of the easiest or most difficult parts about filling out your college applications. This is one topic that I remember my school counselor putting a high amount of stress on while I was in high school. There are many factors to consider for your letters of recommendation, and I’m happy to share all my tips for obtaining them and how I personally went through the process.
The first piece of advice I can recommend is to not hold off on these letters. Teachers and other faculty receive many requests from students, so they can get a little backed up. You will want to give whomever you ask enough time to write something thoughtful and true about you. When you have all the schools you want to apply to and the majors and programs for each school, think about who you know who can write something beneficial about you that would most apply to the school or program. For example, if you are planning on applying for a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) related major think of which math or science teachers can write you a reference, or if you are applying to a political science program, consider which history or government teachers can write you a reference.
Next, consider if you want to use the same letter of recommendation for each school or letters written for a specific school. This is important because if one of your letters is tailored to a specific school and you use that same letter for another school, the admissions officer may not appreciate receiving a letter meant for a different program.
My last piece of advice is to not be scared to ask someone for a letter of recommendation. Many professors even enjoy writing letters of recommendation, because they want to see you succeed. It may be daunting, but if you have shown them that you are a good student and are ready to go to college, teachers will be happy to write you a letter.
To sum up my advice, give your recommender enough time to write your letter, think of teachers or faculty who can write you a letter based on the program you’re applying to, decide whether you want one letter for all your applications or tailored ones for specific schools, and don’t be afraid to ask. One final piece is that you can ask multiple people for letters of recommendation. It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan.
In my case, I didn’t have to hesitate about who I would ask to write my letters. In total, I wanted to apply to four schools. I applied to two schools for criminal justice, one for homeland security and emergency preparedness (HSEP; my current major), and one for architecture. While I had these four schools in mind, there was only one that I wanted to go to, so I put the most effort into that letter of recommendation. Immediately, I knew I wanted to ask my criminal justice teacher to write a letter specifically to the school I wanted to go to the most: Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). I had been taking her classes for two years and she was also a police officer during the summer months when we were not in school. I thought she would be the perfect person to write me a letter for the HSEP program. For the other three schools, I decided that I would use one letter, so I asked my yearbook class teacher who was previously my English teacher as well. In both cases I asked for these letters well in advance of their due dates. I knew many people would also ask my yearbook teacher, so that is why it was very important for me to ask in advance. For my criminal justice teacher, the process was very easy. I asked her to write the letter specifically tailored to VCU and the HSEP program. She was already aware of the program and thought I would be a good fit for it so she had no problem agreeing to what I asked. Something funny to note about this is that I strategically told her the due date for the letter was one day before it was actually due. On the fake due date, she had not completed the letter. Fortunately, though, she actually had one more day to write it. Telling her the letter was due before the actual due date saved my application to the school I wanted to go to the most. When all my applications were said and done, I wrote a nice thank you letter to the two people who helped me. In my experience, I tried to make this part of the application process the least stressful as possible, so I thoughtfully chose my recommenders, asked well in advance, and thanked them for their kindness and courtesy in the end.