Applications Made Easy: Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
Follow our step-by-step guide to get an amazing letter of recommendation.
You found a great educator preparation program or teaching position, and you’re excited to apply. Maybe you’ve got your resume prepared and a personal essay written, but the program or district also wants a letter of recommendation.
You know you need to stand out from the crowd, and a great recommendation will help you do that—but who do you ask? And how do you ask them?
We’ve created a few guidelines to help you. Follow these steps to fearlessly ask for and receive a stellar recommendation letter.
Ask For a Letter of Rec Step-by-Step
Step one: Understand the letter requirements
Before you ask for a letter of recommendation, it pays to have a closer look at the letter requirements for your program or district. Some application instructions tell you exactly what to include. For others, look for keywords in the program admission or application requirements.
Some programs may want letters of recommendation that are in a sealed envelope, or filled out with the school’s official recommendation form. Check to find out if your program has specific submission requirements for letters of recommendation!
Step two: Choose a recommender
You will typically need two to three references from people who can attest to your skill sets, strengths and fit for a career in education. Your recommenders should be people who have supervised you in some capacity. Common recommenders include employers, supervisors, teachers and professors.
Recommenders should be people who know you in a professional, volunteer or school context, rather than friends and family. Common recommenders include employers, supervisors, teachers and professors. A variety of recommenders is usually good: Try to pick people who have different experiences with you in different roles over time.
Letter of Recommendation FAQs
What if I worked with my recommender a long time ago, or if they no longer work at the same job?
It’s totally okay if you knew your recommender a long time ago, or if they don’t work at the same company anymore. They can still speak to your shared experience working together.
What if I can’t find the person I want to ask?
LinkedIn can be a great tool to find people who you’ve lost touch with, especially if they’ve moved on from the job where you knew them.
You could also ask former coworkers to recommend you, or to put you in touch with a former supervisor. You can also consider recommenders who know you outside of work or school, such as people who have volunteered or served on a board with you.
If you really can’t find anyone, a formal performance review can sometimes work in place of a letter of recommendation (this is especially true for job applications).
It can be a good idea to keep in touch with folks on LinkedIn or elsewhere even when you don’t need any help! This can help it feel more natural to ask for a letter of recommendation when the time comes.
Step three: Prepare materials to make the recommender’s job easy
You can make it easy for your recommender to write you a great recommendation by providing information they can use to write the letter.
- An explanation of what you’re applying for and why you’d like them to recommend you.
- Some background about your rationale for applying to the program and your career aspirations once you complete the program. Consider including your personal essay, if you’ve completed that task.
- Any specific topics you’d like them to speak to, such as your physics know-how, critical thinking skills or ability to mentor others. Be sure that these are skills that your recommender has seen in action!
- The deadline for their letter. (Bake in one week’s wiggle room.)
- A copy of your official or unofficial transcript.
- Your resume.
- Instructions about how to submit your letter. Some programs require recommenders to use a web submission form or program-specific email address.
- Any additional information you feel the recommender needs to write your letter.
- If your recommender is a past instructor, include the grades you received in their course and a sample of work you completed for them. This will remind them of your greatness.
Step four: Make the ask
Send a short, polite email at least two or three weeks before the deadline for submitting the letter. If you ask in person, follow up with an email. If you are not currently employed by, or in a class with your recommender, start with a reminder of who you are and when you last spent time together.
Tell the recommender the purpose of the letter and let them know exactly how to submit it. Most letters are uploaded into an online application system, but if the recommender should mail the letter, include a stamped, addressed envelope.
Attach your resume, and thank your recommender.
If you have any questions about your teaching program applications, reach out to a TEACH coach or admissions staff for support. We’re here for you.
Level up your game with these pro tips
Give your recommenders plenty of time to reflect on your accomplishments and to write the letter. Some programs recommend asking at least 30 days in advance.
Don’t assume that someone will have the time or be willing to recommend you for a teacher preparation program. Make your request far enough in advance to allow for any course-corrections if you have to ask someone else.
Make sure to get confirmation from your recommender once your letter is submitted.
Once you’ve received confirmation of submission, give your recommender a big thank you in the form of an email, phone call or card. Just like you, recommenders have a day job, and providing a reference is a favor to you (that’s how great you must be!). Not only is this polite, but it will encourage your recommender to support you in the future.
If you are accepted to your educator preparation program, let your recommender know! People love to hear if they've helped you achieve a goal, and it will make it easier to ask if you need to ask for another recommendation in the future.
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