How to Ask a High School Teacher for a Reference Letter

Though teachers have a lot of work, they will happily make time to write a reference letter. Just observe a few etiquette guidlelines.
... Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

Asking a high school teacher for a reference letter can be intimidating: what if the teacher says no? While rejection is a possibility, it is unlikely. High school teachers are accustomed to writing reference letters for students. When asking a high school teacher for a reference letter, adhere to a few matters of etiquette, and you will be more likely to end up with a glowing letter. Consider carefully how you ask, when you ask, what materials you provide, and how you follow up.

1 How to Ask

First of all, decide which teachers to ask. According to the College Board, colleges are looking for references that offer a current perspective on the student. Therefore, it is better to ask a current teacher or one who has known you over a span of years. Next, make an appointment with your teacher. She can give you her full attention if she is expecting to talk with you. Finally, mention why you are specifically asking her for the letter.

2 When to Ask

Teachers are notoriously harried for time. Morningside College recommends asking for letters at least three weeks to a month before the deadline. In fact, set your own due date two weeks prior to the college deadline if possible, giving the teacher some leeway in case she misses your deadline. Be conscious, too, of the timing within the year. Avoid asking near the end of the semester, when a teacher has deadlines of her own to meet, but also do not ask at a time that will require her to work on her break. Showing some sensitivity to her schedule is more likely to yield a favorable letter.

3 Materials to Provide

As College Board points out, colleges value letters of recommendation because they reveal aspects of the student that test scores alone cannot. Therefore, when you go to your meeting with your teacher, have relevant materials prepared that remind her of your skills and accomplishments. In writing, indicate why you need a letter of reference, and provide the college guidelines for the letter. Remind your teacher of your contributions to her class and to the school. Provide a list of any awards you have received or accomplishments you have achieved. In essence, make the task of writing the reference letter as easy as possible.

4 Follow Up

As Seattle Pacific University puts it, avoid harassing your teachers about the letter. After a teacher has accepted your request, give her two weeks before you mention the letter again. At that time, it is fine to send a polite email reminder about the due date. After you receive the letter or your teacher confirms that she has submitted it, thank her sincerely. At the very least, write a thank you card. She spent her precious time doing you a favor, so let her know you appreciate it.

Nadia Archuleta has a B.A. in English writing. She spent five years working abroad and has traveled extensively. She has worked as an English as a Foreign/Second Language teacher for 12 years.