• Asking for a Letter of Recommendation



    Should I ask for a letter of rec?

    As a general rule, I am happy to write letters of recommendation.  Not only do I enjoy helping out those who put so much effort into our class, I see it as my professional responsibility to write requested letters of recommendation.  However, since I beleive I must be honest when writing in order to maintain the integrity of these letters, there are things to consider before asking:

    • What did you contribute that makes you a good candidate for a letter of rec? 
      • Were you a great participator, a leader, or are there countless positive 'moments' that come to mind.  Did you stand out amongst the masses?  Were you especially sucessful, helpful, kind, or humorous?  Was the class better off for your presence?  Did you score the high score on an assignment, or did you show tremendous improvement?  Were things not always easy, but you persevered?
    • What might give you pause before asking?
      • Were you just sort of 'there'.  Did you have a mediocre presence in the classroom?  Did you have attendance problems, or have trouble passing?  Did you and I have difficulty seeing eye to eye?  Were you a low participator, or a cheater?




     Timing is more important than you think.  I get bombarded with requests and I do my best to attend to them in the order in which they were received.  Just because your deadline is in 3 days doesn't mean your request is bumped up to the front.  It's best to ask at least a month in advance.  I have responsibilities outside of school that demand my time and I may only have one day out the week where I can work on a letter.  The busiest months are September and October where the requests can get into the dozens.  I do have a tendency to start turning people down once I have about 4-6 unstarted requests pending.  If you suspect you are going to ask for a letter, try asking just before summer break.  The request count is pretty low then and I have loads of time over summer to fill requests.  You are actually doing everyone a favor by asking then as you are assuring I can get to yours, giving me time to write it, and lowering the request count for everyone else during the 'busy season'. 

     I make it a policy not to write letters for anyone I haven't known for at least 6 months, so if I have you this year December is the earliest you should ask.

     Most college recommendation letters start becoming due around Nov 1st.  For this reason, I stop taking requests for the current year after the end of the first quarter.  I do make exceptions for unusual circumstances and this rule does not apply to letters for internships not associated with college admissions.


    What to do

    • Do ask me face to face: I know it can be indimidating, but when you ask me face to face I shows me that you know it's a lot of time and effort you are asking of me and is just the kind thing to do.
    • Do provide me with some information: This can be done via email after asking for the letter - I want to do a good job and I bet there is a lot about you I don't know.  Are you applying for an engineering school and you built a actual working spacecraft I don't know about?  Maybe you should let me know.  Are you looking to major in philospohy and I'm about to go on and on about what a great mathematical mind you have?  If you give me some extra info it allows me to tailor the letter more to you.  Schools can look up all your stats such as GPA and class rank on their own, they don't need me for that.  What they want out of me is a window into who you are as a person.  So any information that helps me express that makes for a stronger letter.
    • Pester me:  Especially as the deadline approaches.  Just a simple email with the header 'App due in two days' and the link sent again is tremendously helpful.  I have a lot going on and your request can be forgotten somewhat if not entirely.  I don't see it as bothersome - I see it as helpful.  Now, I don't want an email every day for a month, but ramping up the pestering to maybe once a week, then once a day as the deadline approaches is great.
    • Ask for additional letters:  Once I have already written you a letter, it's no problem at all to send it out to someone new.  Or even to make adjustments if necessary.
    • Bring a completed Letter of Recommendation Questionaire.  Due to the large number of requests I get, I need to start on your letter immediately and I need this form to do so.  I will be forced to decline your request without the completed Questionaire.  This form is quite different than the career center form, and that one does not give me the information I need.

    What not to do

    • Send an email request: This is tremendously impersonal and slightly offensive.  I don't know any teacher who likes this.  It says you see letters of recommendation as a task to pass on to someone else instead of a request for someone's time and effort.
    • Have your parents/guardian ask: A letter of recommendation is supposed to be a teacher-student driven process.  Having a parent ask is very similar to sending an email request if not worse.  It feels as if I am writing the letter for the parent rather than for the student.
    • Ask because I'm the one they want to hear from: Letters of rec aren't about me, they are about you.  If your program is requesting a science teacher, that doesn't make me the default letter to ask for.  Now, if you were a great student for one reason or another, than maybe I am.