Letters of Recommendation FAQs

Learn who your letter of recommendation should come from, how many letters are needed, and what qualities are most valued in the letter.
Student using laptop to learn about letters of recommendation

If you're a student who is applying to college soon, you'll most likely have to ask some teachers or your school counselor for a letter of recommendation as part of the application process. We've got lots of information about letters of recommendation on our website here. But some of the other common questions we receive about letters of recommendation may be on your mind too. We've answered a few below.

Is it okay to have a recommendation from a sophomore year teacher rather than a junior year teacher?

It's generally best to ask teachers from junior year for a recommendation, as they would have spent the most recent entire academic year with you. Think about which teachers know you best and not necessarily who gave you the best grade. Sometimes a letter from a teacher in a class that you struggled in or where you overcame obstacles can be a good example of personal and academic growth. Teachers who attended the college that you are applying to may also be a good fit.

Could a boss or colleague at your job write your letter, or should they only come from school counselors and teachers?

Most colleges recommend that students ask for recommendations from teachers in one of the five core subjects: English, math, science, history, and foreign language. However, a student may make a choice to ask for an additional letter from another supportive adult who knows him or her well, such as a boss or colleague. Former MEFA intern, Zahaq Garrison, shared his story of seeking out a recommendation from his high school basketball coach.

How many letters of recommendation are needed?

Each school will have its own requirements for this. Some might require three. Some might require zero. The best way to make sure you are providing the school with everything they need is to check their website or to contact the admissions office. Remember, meet, don't exceed, the requirement. If a college asks for two letters of recommendation, only send two. You'll want to show that you can read and follow directions, and that you respect the time of the admissions staff reviewing your application.

Is it necessary to have a school counselor write one of the recommendation letters, or could they all come from teachers?

A common requirement of many colleges is one counselor recommendation and one teacher recommendation. However, check with each school, as each college will have its own policy. If you're worried you haven't gotten to know your school counselor well enough for that person to write you a letter of recommendation, schedule an appointment with him or her to chat and explain who you are and what your goals are for the future.

What qualities are the most valued in a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation can speak to who you are as a person and can get across features that might not be apparent based on transcripts and test scores alone. Letters of recommendation should speak to your personal qualities, as well as your academic abilities. Admissions offices want to learn more about your character from the letters, such as what motivates you, how you interact with peers, how you handle challenges, and what goals you have for the future.

Does it matter what kind of subject the recommender teaches?

Most colleges recommend that students ask teachers in one of the five core subjects: English, math, science, history, and foreign language. If you already know what major you are pursuing, choosing a teacher in that discipline may be required by the college (e.g., math and science teachers for engineering or nursing). Think about the teachers who know your academic strengths and abilities best. You'll want someone who can speak to your participation in class and your work ethic.

Learn more about letters of recommendation