Letters of recommendation are something that get little mention in school, but for anyone headed to college, anyone in need of a loan or a scholarship, they’re important. This guide is addressed to students, so we’re mostly talking about getting letters from your teachers here. Just a few tips.

  • Ask early. You want your teacher to have the time to write a sincere, reflective letter about you that will impress the scholarship committee, so make sure you ask with plenty of time. Teachers are busy people. They’ll appreciate your respecting that, and it will show in their evaluation of you.
  • Ask formally. This is a professional request, with real ramifications on your adult life. Treat it so. Preferably, make an appointment to ask in person, or else write a formal letter or email of request.
  • Ask the right person. While it might be tempting to ask every single teacher you have, that’s not going to help you. If it’s a history scholarship, what’s your math teacher going to have to say? If it’s a general scholarship, ask the teacher who you think has the best opinion of you. Not necessarily the one who’s given you the best grade, but the one who has graded your best work.
  • Ask with realistic expectations. Don’t assume they’ll say yes, and let the details wait until they do. Even if they do accept, make sure you have back-up plans in case they miss your deadline (Be absolutely sure you tell them your deadline). This letter is your responsibility to get in on time, not theirs. They are only volunteers in the process, doing you a favor with no expectation of remuneration.
  • Ask them with details ready. Once they’ve agreed, let them know what you’d like to see highlighted in the letter. Be honest with yourself here – don’t ask them to lie for you. But if you feel you have a particular strength in their class, ask their opinion on it. Also, explain your goal. Which scholarship? What program? What school? Why is this particular teacher relevant to the path you hope to take?
  • Remember after all of this to thank them. A thank you note and gift are not out of the question. Make the whole process as easy on them as you can – if you can pick up the letters from their office, do so. If they have to mail them, make sure you have that address on hand.
  • Above all, make sure your letters of recommendation are not an afterthought, either by you or by the people writing them. Their importance to most scholarship awards cannot be overestimated, and particularly good ones may well cast a glow back over your entire time in school.