How to request a recommendation letter

April 30, 2010 — by Brandon Yang

As summer approaches, so does the deadline to apply for internships and other programs, as well as college application season for the current juniors and scholarships due dates for the seniors, many students will find themselves scrambling to find teachers, guidance counselors and other staff members to write a recommendation letter for them. While upperclassmen may be more familiar with this process, some students may not be sure how to start.

The first step, of course, is to figure out the best staff member to write the letter.

“Find a teacher [or another staff member] who knows you well and can accurately reflect not only your academic prowess, but also your personality and passions,” recommended senior Alex Tsu. “You should stand out in this teacher’s classroom either through your willingness to volunteer or your interest in the subject taught.”

Many private colleges require secondary school reports, which require that the student write two or three names of counselors or administrators in order of preference in addition to recommendations from two different teachers. In envelopes purchasable towards the end of junior year and the beginning of senior year, there are different forms students need to fill out for their teachers and counselors, including “green” sheets from two teachers who are not writing recommendation letters for the student for the secondary school report.

For college letters, the due date for the envelopes and forms for early decision and early admission are at the end of September, while regular applications are due near the end of October, so students request recommendation letters at least a few weeks before. Many teachers, especially those who teach classes of mostly juniors, will ask students to request recommendation letters and possibly fill out an additional form before certain dates prior to the end of the school year because there are so many that need to be written so juniors will need to know who they will ask before then.

Other programs, such as internships and scholarships, will accept recommendation letters from almost any staff member, while some might ask specifically for a teacher of a certain subject. For these programs, staff members ask that students request the letter at least two weeks before the due date. Students should also provide an addressed envelope with the necessary stamps to whoever is writing the letter, unless additional forms, such as transcripts, are required. Then, the envelopes should be given to guidance secretary Sharon Fong in the guidance office. A resume should also be given to whoever is writing the recommendation letter.

“In terms of helping that person write a good letter, I do ask for either a resume with extracurricular activities and accomplishments, or just a simple list of freshmen memories, what you did, different things you’ve been involved with,” said guidance counselor Frances Saiki. “And for a teacher, it might be specific things that jogs the teacher’s memory about something in class.”

Once the process is completed, students should express their gratitude to the letter writer whether the students are accepted into the program or college or not. However, they should not ask to see the letter, since the school policies do not allow students to ever see the letters. Even so, students should remember that the staff members often use their own free time, often after school hours at home, to write the recommendation letters, so be sure to thank them for their efforts!

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