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  • Recommendation letters can be an important part of applying to college, graduate school, and internships.
  • They can provide a sense of your talents and who you are as a person.
  • You’ll want to ask people who can vouch for your work ethic and relevant skills.

Whether you’re completing college applications or applying for an internship, letters of recommendation can help the decision makers decide if you’d be a good fit for their program. Letters of recommendation provide an outside perspective on your work ethic, talents, and skills. Here’s when, who, and how to ask for letters of recommendation.

When to ask for a recommendation letter

You’ll likely need letters of recommendation when applying for:

  • An undergraduate program
  • Graduate school
  • Internships
  • Post-college employment

Give yourself plenty of time to get your recommendation letters together. The people you’re asking to write them will need ample time to fine-tune their thoughts and craft their recommendations. You should aim to reach out to people between four-to-six weeks before the application due date. Jot down your application deadlines and begin thinking about who to ask. The sooner you approach them, the better.

Who to ask for a letter of recommendation

When deciding who to ask for a letter of recommendation, zero in on people you’ve worked with directly who can speak to:

  • Your ability to follow through on tasks
  • Your willingness to solve problems and work through dilemmas
  • Your ability to adapt to the unexpected
  • Your relevant skills and how they relate to the program you’re applying to
  • Your unique talents and interests
  • Your character and personality

Think about teachers, professors, coaches, club advisors, and guidance counselors who you feel comfortable asking for a letter of recommendation. Managers or mentors you’ve worked with at after-school jobs or volunteer programs may also come to mind. Choosing someone who knows you well helps ensure their recommendation will be strong and authentic.

How to ask for a letter of recommendation

Once you’ve decided who to ask, you can reach out in person, over the phone, or send them a short email to see if they’d be open to writing a letter of recommendation. Make sure to personalize the email and include why you’re asking them. Perhaps you’ve really enjoyed learning from them or see them as a mentor you respect. The goal is to ask in a way that’s warm, genuine, and professional. It’s also helpful to include key details about the request such as the deadline and information about the school or program you’re applying to. 

How to highlight your accomplishments

Chances are that the people you’re asking to write recommendation letters have a lot on their plates. Helping to lighten the lift can make the process a little easier for them. A simple way to do that is to provide your résumé or list of accomplishments. This can be an easy-to-scan summary of:

  • Relevant projects you’ve worked on or times you’ve shined
  • Awards you’ve won
  • Groups and extracurricular organizations you belong to, along with any leadership roles you’ve held
  • Hardships you’ve overcome
  • Special skills you’ve demonstrated

You can also ask the letter writer to highlight why they think you’d be a good candidate for whatever you’re applying to, whether it’s an undergraduate program, master’s program, or internship.

How to follow up on a recommendation letter

If your application deadline is approaching and you haven’t received your letter yet, it’s acceptable to give the person a gentle reminder. Life happens, and they probably got sidetracked with other things. Aim to send a follow-up message 10 days before your deadline to give them enough time to complete your letter.

You can follow up via email, text, phone call, or in person, depending on your relationship. Either way, be sure to express your gratitude while reminding them of your original ask. If you’re sending an email, you can even reattach relevant information they may need, such as your résumé or list of accomplishments. What matters most is maintaining the relationship and staying on their radar.

How to say thank you for a recommendation letter

Make sure to express your gratitude to anyone who wrote a letter of recommendation on your behalf. Show your appreciation for their time and support with a personalized thank-you note.

As you move through college and internships, make it a point to connect with your professors and managers. You may need fresh recommendation letters when applying for jobs after you graduate. Having strong letters of recommendation can go a long way.

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