Do’s and Don’ts of how to ask a teacher for a Letter of Recommendation

Scott Olvera, Staff Writer

Many, if not all, seniors of Dougherty Valley have started their journey to an independent life by applying to colleges in which they want to attend. From UC colleges, to out of state, and even some international schools, students have a huge variety of schools they wish to attend. One of the big parts of applying is the Letter of Recommendation (LOR) that students need for their college applications. This process requires the student to fill out a packet with information about themselves and the schools in which they are interested in. But the biggest part of this “application” is the fact that one must ask the teacher they are seeking to write the letter in person. Unfortunately, there is a right and a wrong way of doing this, and you definitely don’t want to mess it up. But have no fear, in case you are worried; here are tips on how to ask one of your teachers “the question”.


How to: When asking a teacher, plan for a time in which they can take their time and not be rushed writing the letter. Give them about 1 month in advance so they can write out a clear and well thought-out letter for you. That way, the teacher will not feel rushed and can have time to think about what they want to say.

How not to: Procrastination is a great thing; it promotes the motto “play before work.” Take your time on things, have fun before you start work because a well rested and relaxed mind can produce great things and cause minimal stress on a student. This applies to LOR as well: take your time when asking. Teachers can sometimes be very busy and it’s best you ask another time. A good time to ask is the day of that your application is due, as this gives you plenty of time to think about what you want to say when asking the teacher. Remember, it’s all about you when asking, and the teachers should accommodate their time to your schedule.

The Approach:

How to: Approach your teacher when they are not busy and have minimal work to do. This is good so they are not stressed out and can focus on you when writing the letter. Also, look at least halfway decent; you wouldn’t go to a job interview in a tank top and some loose pants would you? Treat this as professionally as you can, come with confidence and a smile, and know what you want to say.

How not to: Approach your teacher when they are super busy. It’s best to try to catch them on the way to the restroom or in the middle of a lecture. Being blunt with them is key when you want to ask: just walk up and tell them you need a LOR for college. Nothing more, nothing less. Another good strategy to ask them is not to ask them at all, and just go on Naviance and add them through the website. This way, you can save time and avoid walking up to a teacher and asking them a favor; we ask them too many already.

What to say:

How to: When you approach your teacher, ask them politely and don’t act desperate. Act relaxed and calm and simply use a template like so: “Hello Mr./Mrs.____, I have known you for about a year now and I really have learned a lot from you. It has been a pleasure to be in your class and I feel like we have a good relationship. I was wondering if you would like to write me a LOR for _College_.” Feel free to tell them what you are planning to study and why it is important to you. If they agree, thank them. If they can’t or don’t have time, be polite and thank them anyway for their time.

How not to: A very effective way to ask a teacher is to be bold and straight to the point. Here is an idea of what to say, “Can you make a LOR for me?” That is really all you need to say. Some useful tips when talking is to be eating a ham and cheese sandwich with spinach when asking. This will give insurance to the teacher that you are healthy and mean business. Also try chewing gum, make sure you chew extra loud and try to smack your lips when talking. This will show the teacher you are funny and entertaining. He/She will definitely write you a letter. If they agree, be cool about it, and say phrases such as “all right good stuff” or “Cool bro.” If they disagree, storm out of the room and never come back.

Following up:

How to: After you have asked your teacher, wait for a few weeks before you mention it. Following up is a good way to remind the teacher in case they forgot, or to make sure they know the deadline you need it in by. When following up, it is important that you are polite and not seem desperate for them to finish it. Asking them 1-2 times is appropriate, and no more is needed.

How not to: Following up as many times as you can is very important because it lets you know what is going on so you can stay on track for college applications. After you have asked your teacher, go back the following day and ask them if they have started. Being persistent will get the job done. Asking them 5-6 times a week is preferred because it lets your teacher know that you are serious about college and they can write a better letter because they know you want to go to college.

Giving Teachers Gifts:

How to: If you are very appreciative of a teacher writing your letter, feel free to give them a little gift as a token of your appreciation. Something like a letter or a gift card to a local coffee shop is all that is needed. When doing this be careful as some teachers might feel that they are being bribed, so it is important to tell them why you are giving them it in the first place.

How not to: Everyone loves receiving gifts, so why not get a big gift for your teacher for writing you an LOR. Make sure you spend over $100 on something because it will show that you really appreciate what they have done for you. If you are seeking an outstanding letter, you can try slipping them $20 in hopes that they will write an instant admission letter to the dean of the college you are applying to.

Now that you know the ups and downs of how to ask for a Letter of Rec, get asking! Keep in mind you need to submit your packet ONE MONTH in advance of the deadline. Good luck out there!