A teacher reading the recommendation letter she wrote for a student before sending it out.

Recommendation Letters: Who Should You Ask — And How?

January 8, 2021

Asking for recommendation letters is a critical component of the private school admissions process. Why? Because it is in these letters that your student shines and your application comes to life.  

When written with intention by someone who knows and cares about your child, private school recommendation letters showcase your child’s authentic skills and personality, providing context to their application. 

However, the process of asking for a recommendation can seem intimidating or awkward, especially if the person you are asking doesn’t know you are considering applying to a private school. 

How do you ask a teacher, coach, or other trusted advisor for a recommendation letter in a way that shows you value both their time and their opinion? Here are some things to consider: 

1. Pick the right people. 

The best people to write recommendation letters for your child are the people who truly know them as a student, as a leader, and as a person. 

Recommendation letters can come from current or past teachers, coaches, activity leaders, or trusted adults. They should be individuals with relevant professional positions who have experience with your child in recent educational or leadership situations. They should also be people who you believe can thoughtfully articulate your child’s strengths, passions, and personality.  

2. Ask for a recommendation at the right time. 

The private school admissions journey is often up to a year in length — so when is the right time to ask current teachers and advisors for a recommendation? 

While every school’s application deadlines are different, the best time to ask for recommendation letters is early- to mid-November. This date range gives current teachers and advisors time to get to know your child and provides them with enough runway to write the letters before application deadlines. 

3. Be thoughtful with your ask. 

If done correctly, a recommendation letter can take some time to write. When you ask, acknowledge that you respect the person’s time and energy and trust their honest opinions. Let them know why you picked them, why you value their input, and exactly what you need from them.  

You can ask via a simple outreach email, such as: 

Dear [Name]:

Thank you for being such an incredible source of support and inspiration to [Child Name]. 

As someone who knows [them] so well, I am reaching out to see if you would be willing to write a brief letter of recommendation for [their] upcoming application to [School Name]. We are exploring [School Name] because [insert a personal reason for why this school is the right fit for your child.]

If you agree, we would need [insert letter requirements] by [due date]. We know you are incredibly busy, and we highly value both your time and your input, so please let us know if this is something you can accommodate. 

Sincerely,

[Name]

4. Follow up. 

Even the most caring advisor can forget deadlines and responsibilities. If a teacher or coach has agreed to write a recommendation letter but has not submitted it to you with the deadline looming, it’s perfectly acceptable to follow up. 

Reach out a few weeks before the final deadline to remind them of the due date. (It’s even a good idea to give them a date that is a week earlier than the actual due date to give yourself time to pull your complete application package together!) This approach will provide you with enough time to contact a backup source for a recommendation letter if needed.  

5. Thank them!

Once you submit your final application, breathe a sigh of relief, and then write a Thank You note to your recommendation writers (or preferably, if your child is old enough, have them write their own!). 

Those are just a few simple tips we recommend to make it easier to ask and receive recommendation letters that will positively impact your private school application.

Want more tips and resources?

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