Letter of Recommendation Etiquette:: Helping your Juniors and Seniors

If you are a parent of a junior or senior, you know it’s scholarship application and letter of recommendation season. Students are overstressed, trying to pass classes, write powerful scholarship essays, and plan for graduation. For students, January-April can be overwhelming. Since there are only a few times in their lives when they’ll need letters of recommendation, many do not know how to go about asking for one.

Here are some tips for your soon-to-be graduate to get their letter of recommendation.

Ask for the Letters of Recommendation Early

Your teen may not know the exact scholarships he or she will be applying for in the fall of senior year, but applications to colleges or internships will happen eventually. It is a good idea to ask two or three teachers, counselors, or coaches for generic letters of recommendation so that they are ready to go. Later on in the year, if your child needs a more specific letter, it is incredibly easy for the recommender to alter a letter already written to fit each scholarship. When your child requests the letter, have it be in person if at all possible. When he or she goes to request the recommendation, it is best to have a resume on hand. If a resume isn’t possible, have your child come armed with at least five things listed on a piece of paper:

  1. Grade Point Average—found on his or her transcripts

  2. Volunteer Experience

  3. Extra-Curricular Activities

  4. Work Experience

  5. Advanced Placement or Specialized Classes 

The worst thing that can happen for a teacher is that a student either asks them the day before a letter is due, or a request for a letter of recommendation ends up in the teacher’s inbox with no advance warning or a personal request from the student. (I’ve also had a “day of” request. Ahhh!) When this happens, teachers still get the letters done, but they cannot be as good as if a teacher was given time. Some teachers simply cannot pull it off in one day with all of the other things expected of them. Asking for a letter of recommendation

Give Specifics and a Nudge

When it gets closer to application season, specific letters tailored to a child’s individual skills may be needed. This is another in-person request, if at all possible, and it shouldn’t be hard for the teacher, coach, or counselor to edit a make the letter more specific. If the deadline is approaching and no letter has appeared from the writer, an email reminder or an in-person nudge is totally fine. It’s hard to be a student waiting for a letter of recommendation, but it’s also hard to be a writer of many. Sometimes, all it takes is one reminder, and the letter is complete.

Genuine Letter of Thanks

Most teachers and coaches will tell you that nothing is needed after a letter of recommendation is given besides an authentic “thank you.” It’s definitely advisable for your child to write a thank you card to the recommenders. Writing a letter of recommendation isn’t always easy, and this shows that your child respects that individual’s time and energy. 

These tips are not the only ones out there, but they are the basics of this busy season. Sometimes a great letter is all that stands between your child and a large scholarship. By being prepared for this part of high school, it makes the application process go much smoother for all involved.

Tessa A. Adams is a graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a Masters in reading. She is a language arts and creative writing teacher and is the co-author of the blog www.familyfootnote.com. She has three children and when she is not mothering or teaching, she is writing. Her work can be found in Fine Lines Literary Journal, Huff Post Parents, Empty Sink Publishing, Route 7 Review, Sammiches and Psychmeds, THAT Literary Review, The Sunlight Press, xoJane, and Parent.co.