Project Opportunity: Access to Washington's Colleges'

“Each time I volunteer, I discover more about myself and what is important, the needs I can fill and the amazing people we have here in the Tacoma area.”

— Penny Beckwith
Pacific Lutheran University


Application Components:
Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation give the colleges you are applying to a stronger idea about who you are as a person. They should highlight your strengths and help make the case for why you'll be an excellent addition to the college's student body. Most colleges require one to three letters.

Here are a few things to consider when asking someone to write a letter of recommendation for you:

  • Think about who should write a recommendation for you. Your professors are an obvious choice, as they probably have the best idea of your academic abilities. At least one of your letters, if not all of them, should be from a professor or a high school teacher. Of course, don't feel like you can't ask other people to write a letter for you just because your relationship isn't strictly academic in nature. For example, if you do volunteer work you might ask your supervisor to write you a letter. Colleges want to know you're a person with varied interests and this is a good place to demonstrate that.
  • If you need three letters of recommendation, ask for four. Someone may forget and you don't want to be caught at the deadline without what you need.
  • Pick someone who knows you and likes you. You might have a passing acquaintance with someone important from whom it would seem quite impressive to receive a letter of recommendation. This is not always the best option. What's most important is that the person who is writing the letter knows you well and can provide a detailed account of your strengths. Ask your writer, “Can you write a strong letter for me?” This will help you make sure that you're getting a good letter to pass on to colleges.
  • Give your writer plenty of time. Remember, your professors, teachers and mentors have full lives too, and they can't always write you a letter at the drop of a hat. Ask for letters at least one to two months before they are due, so they have plenty of time to complete them.
  • Check up with your writers from time to time and make sure they've either finished the letter or remember that they told you they would do it.
  • Make sure your writers know to whom they should send the letters. Provide addressed and stamped envelopes for their convenience.
  • If the letter of recommendation is for a scholarship, make sure you give your writer information on what the scholarship is about so they can write you a focused and specific letter.
  • Get some extra copies of letters that you can put in your scholarship folder. If your writer doesn't feel comfortable providing you with copies, it might be a good indicator that they are not writing you a strong letter.
Funded in part by a grant from
the Ben B. Cheney Foundation
published by Independent Colleges of Washington