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The Sure-Fire Way to Get Powerful Recommendation Letters - Part 2

Last week I wrote about how picking the right teachers for letters of recommendation can positively impact your college applications. But there's more to it than just identifying the right teachers to write for you. You need to do it the right way.

Here are the steps to securing the most powerful letters of recommendation:

1. Reach out to your teachers early.

As long as your school doesn't have restrictions on when to ask teachers for letters of recommendation, make a point to ask them RIGHT NOW. Providing your chosen teachers with plenty of time shows understanding and planning. Some teachers will write their letters over the summer. Even if they wait until the fall, asking them early gives you a leg up on the process. In fact, some teachers may have limits on the number of letters they are willing to write each year.

2. Give them an "out."

Almost every teacher will say "yes" to your request. But you don't want to ask a teacher on the spot. Give them a heads up through an email asking them if you could set up a time to meet with them about your college recommendation letter. If they don't have the time to write the letter or don't feel comfortable, they can send you a simple email back indicating this, and you can then consider someone else.

3. Set up a time over email when you and the teacher can sit down, and you can formally ask them to write for you.

Asking the teacher without any distractions of the school bell, classmates overhearing your request, or the pressure to get to your next class will allow you and the teacher to have a more productive conversation. You probably need between 10 and 20 minutes to chat.

4. Come prepared for the "ask" meeting.

Know in your mind and heart why you chose this teacher to write for you. Explain to them your reasoning. It could be that this is your favorite class, he/she is your favorite teacher, that you want to study this subject in college, or a combination of all of these reasons. Tell them. They will be flattered.

5. Give them details.

If you know what you are interested in studying and where you plan to apply, let the teacher know. And if you are still figuring that out, provide any important information that could be helpful to the teacher. For example, you can mention a unit that you excelled at; a project that was especially strong; an experience that crystallized your interest. This can help to frame the story that the teacher writes about you.

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6. Put everything in writing.

Follow up your meeting with a "thank you" email and any additional details (i.e. timing). Provide an end of summer update before school starts. Let the teacher know what colleges you will be applying to (especially for any early applications) as soon as you know. And thank them after they submit your letter of recommendation.

Teachers don't get paid extra to write letters of recommendation. They do it because they want to support their students in the college application process. Be thoughtful about who you ask for a letter of recommendation. And, be thoughtful about how you ask them too. Approaching your teachers in advance with deep appreciation and clear direction will increase the likelihood of them writing the most powerful letter for you!