How to Choose the Right Teacher to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

by Trevann Hamilton | Last Updated: January 18, 2023

If you’re applying to college soon, now is a great time to start collecting college recommendation letters. College recommendation letters are important in the college admissions process. For the 2023-2024 admissions cycle, with many schools still being test-optional, emphasis is highly placed on recommendation letters. Therefore, you must ask the right person to write your recommendation letter. Here is your guide in helping you figure out which teacher to ask for a letter of recommendation.

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Key Takeaways

Table of Contents

What is a Letter of Recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is usually a short document submitted to the colleges you want to attend as part of your overall application. Most colleges require at least two letters of recommendation via an admissions portal like the Common App or Coalition App.  

A great letter of recommendation should outline your strengths, accomplishments whether academic or otherwise, and character. In addition to that, a well-written recommendation letter will also highlight why you’d be an asset to the school. 

Recommendation letters provide social proof or verification of the information you provide in your college application. Also, the college recommendation letter gives dimension to your high school academic record. 

According to the University of Cincinnati, “A strong recommendation letter can make a student stand out from the other applicants, and ultimately tip the needle in their favor.”

Even though a good recommendation letter can strengthen your application, it won’t be the sole reason a student is admitted. However, a weak recommendation letter can almost certainly ruin your chances of admission. 


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Who Can Write My Letter of Recommendation?

By default, your guidance counselor will write a letter of recommendation for you. 

You’ll also need to ask an academic teacher, one that teaches English, math, science, social studies, or a foreign language, to write another. 

If a third letter is needed, it can be written by a second teacher, an employer, or someone else who knows you well. For example, if you volunteer somewhere, the person supervising may be able to submit a letter of recommendation for you. By the way, if you haven’t started volunteering yet, we recommend it to our high school students. Volunteering looks great on your college application and you get to make a difference. 

The best recommenders will be able to speak about your academic performance, motivation, growth, and promise for college.

Who you choose to write your recommendation letter can make or break your college applications. If you want to get into your top choices, you have to carefully choose the right person. 

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Getting Started: Preparing to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation For College

As you prepare your college applications and get organized, don’t leave the collection of recommendation letters until the last minute or as an afterthought. 

Before asking anyone to write a letter of recommendation for college, you have to put in some thought beforehand. 

The first thing you have to do is check out the letter of recommendation policies for the schools you want to apply to and the high school you’re currently attending. That way you don’t accidentally sabotage your chances of getting in by breaking their rules. 

The next step is to make a list of teachers that you’ll ask for recommendation letters and a plan to do so. Before getting into who you should ask, let’s look at who you shouldn’t ask. 

When deciding what teacher to ask for a recommendation letter, you should not think about any of the following:

  • What teacher is the best writer?
  • Who is my favorite teacher?
  • By whom am I most favored?

Focusing on these questions can be a recipe for disaster. 

Teachers who your peers know to be the best writers or favored teachers are highly sought-after recommendation writers. These teachers get overwhelmed with requests from students. So often, they end up writing generic letters or may wait until the last minute to submit your letter, or worse – they don’t submit it at all.

Now that you know what not to do, here’s how you go about choosing the right teacher to ask for a letter of recommendation:

Consider Your Teacher’s Relationship With You

Before approaching a teacher to write a letter of recommendation for you, you need to think about the relationship your teacher has with you. 

A teacher who has a good relationship with you will likely write a better letter of recommendation. If you realize that you don’t have a good relationship with any teacher, it’s time to build one. You can do that by:

  • Showing up for the class on time
  • Being respectful 
  • Submitting your assignments on time
  • Showing interest in the class. You can do that by contributing to the class discussion, doing the extra reading, asking questions, or asking for extra credit. 

Look for Relevant Experience With Letter Writing

Finding a teacher with experience in writing recommendation letters can be great for you. These teachers will know the right questions to ask you and how to structure the letter. Remember, you’re not allowed to write your recommendation letter or write one and then ask your teacher to sign it. 

However, writing a recommendation letter is a skill and so finding someone who knows what to do already is good. 

If you’re not sure who has relevant experience with letter writing, you can ask them!

Check Their Availability to Write a Detailed Letter of Recommendation

To say teachers are busy would be an understatement. They’re especially busy when every student is scrambling to get their recommendation letters. That’s why we suggest getting your letters in advance. 

If you want to know your teacher’s capacity to give you a detailed letter of recommendation, you’ll have to ask them directly. Tell them the earliest date you can submit your application and then inquire whether or not they can get it to you by that time or around that time. 

If you’re nervous about approaching your teacher, keep reading, we provide tips to help you!

Make Sure They Have Something Positive to Say About You

If you want a good recommendation letter, you should ask teachers who you know have something positive to say about you. That’s not necessarily your favorite teacher. 

I advise you to ask the “underrated” teachers to write one for you. I mean that you should consider asking the teacher who isn’t necessarily your favorite teacher, or the most favored teacher. But the teacher whose class you worked hard to get a good grade. Or the classes you struggled in, but ultimately pulled off a good grade. 

The underrated teacher won’t be overwhelmed with letters of recommendation requests and is more in a position to be a strong advocate for you. I’ve helped my students approach it from this angle every year, and we have high acceptance rates (100% in this application cycle).

Ask Multiple Teachers to Write a Letter of Recommendation

It’s a smart idea to ask more than one teacher to pen a letter of recommendation. There are plenty of reasons for that, for example, it increases the chances of you actually getting a letter of recommendation to submit. Remember, just because you ask a teacher to write a letter doesn’t mean they will or get it to you on time. 

When you’re compiling your list of teachers to choose from, remember to choose who knows you best. 

When to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation

The best time to ask for a recommendation letter is during the spring of your junior year. If you wait too late, your teacher may say no if they already committed to many other students. If you are a senior and running out of time, give your teacher a couple of months minimum. Always ask in advance. 

When you approach your teacher or email your teacher, you should:

  • Express your interest in attending college.
  • Inform them of colleges you’d like to apply to.
  • Ask them if they would consider writing a recommendation letter for you.
  • Attach your resume (find a sample template here), as well as a brag sheet, they can refer to as they write


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Things to keep in mind when requesting a letter of recommendation via email

Asking your teacher for a recommendation can feel intimidating even via email. We recommend you: 

  • Keep it short
  • Use a professional subject line
  • Use a proper salutation
  • Remind them who you are
  • State the purpose of your email
  • Explain why you chose them
  • Make your request assertive and specific
  • Don’t assume your request will be accepted
  • Mention what you hope they will say
  • Provide information about yourself
  • Attach other important documents
  • Let them know how to submit the recommendation
  • Schedule a brief meeting with your teacher in advance

Here is an example email to help you craft your own.

Sample Email Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

Dear Teacher,

I am excited to share that I will be applying to college this coming fall. I have created a list of schools and have my sights set on the University of Buffalo, Marist College, Connecticut College, and Haverford College. I am hoping that you can write a recommendation letter on my behalf. To assist you in writing the letter, I have attached a copy of my resume and a brag sheet I filled out.

If you have any questions, please let me know. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Warm regards,


Other things to keep in mind when asking a teacher to write a letter of recommendation

As you’re preparing to ask your teachers for recommendation letters, consider these tips:

  • Choose a teacher who knows you best
  • Choose a teacher who taught you the subject most relevant to your academic goals
  • Consider your sports coach or your music teacher only if you require more than one letter
  • If you sense hesitation, ask someone else.
  • Know your teachers (and school counselors on behalf of your teachers) may have their own process—and follow it.
  • If they say no, don’t be pushy
  • Ask what kind of recommendation letter you may get
  • Be respectful of your teacher’s process.
  • Handle any mail-in duties or purchases.
  • Follow up or send a reminder.
  • Deliver a thank you note via email or physically so your teacher can feel appreciated.
  • Waive the right to view your letters of recommendation

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When choosing the right teacher to ask for a letter of recommendation, there are some common mistakes you should avoid.

Asking the Wrong Teacher

Sadly, I’ve heard all of the above happening many times. You also have to worry if your teacher writes your classmate a more persuasive letter, but an uninspiring letter for you. Colleges consider weak recommendation letters as a red flag. To explain what I mean, I like to use the example of an Amazon.com review. When looking at two similar products, we likely use the reviews to decide which to buy. In the context of college admissions, the teacher writing a recommendation letter for two classmates applying to the same college, if you do not get a better letter of recommendation, this could make the difference between getting admitted or being declined. For this reason, it may be helpful to find out from classmates both the colleges they are applying to, and who they have asked to write their recommendation letter.

Asking as a Group

Don’t approach your teacher with a group of friends and ask for a letter of recommendation. Not only can this overwhelm the teacher and put them on the spot, but it’s also not a good tactic. Approach individually during an appropriate time.

When asking for a letter of recommendation in person:

  • Approach cautiously
  • Ask nicely. Remember you’re not entitled to a letter of recommendation, they’re doing you a favor. 
  • Be professional
  • Ask them at an appropriate time for example after class instead of in the middle of class. 

Not Giving Your Teacher Any Information

Don’t just ask for your teacher to write a recommendation letter and leave it at that. To create the strongest recommendation letter, you should provide your teacher with a bit of help. We recommend:

  • Preparing a resume or brag sheet
  • Giving them some direction.
  • Providing all necessary information.
  • Including relevant details such as your goals, what you want to major in etc


Conclusion + Next Steps

Now you know who you should ask to write your college recommendation letters and how to ask them to write them. Again, be sure that once you know who to ask, you ask them as soon as possible. Also, send them your brag sheet and resume at least 6-weeks before applications are due.

After teachers and guidance counselors submit your letter of recommendation, don’t forget to thank them.

Which teachers will you be asking to write recommendation letters for you?

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Trevann is an experienced freelance writer who loves learning new things. Her background in STEM makes her a research whiz and her obsession to clearly explain to people what she found makes her the ideal blogger.