Letters of Recommendation

Letters of Recommendation

Arizona Admissions

Letters of recommendation are not required for general admission to all three of Arizona's public universities.  Certain majors, however, may have additional applications and requirements that could include a letter of recommendation.

Admissions Outside of Arizona

Many universities outside of Arizona require a letter of recommendation as part of their application process.  You should investigate the application requirements for the schools you are interested in attending as soon as possible so you can be informed and request your letters of recommendation well in advance of your deadlines.

What is a Letter of Recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is essentially a second opinion of you as a student.  Universities and scholarship organizations often request a letter of recommendation so they can have the opinion of an experienced professional to validate the claims made in the rest of your application.  It's just like asking for a second opinion when your doctor says they would like to operate, or when a mechanic says they need to make an expensive repair to your car.  These organizations want to be sure they are getting high-quality students, so these opinions are important.  Some schools may ask for multiple letters of recommendation (up to 3 or more!).

Selecting Someone to Write Your Recommendation

Since your recommendation can seriously enhance your application, you will want to make sure you select someone who will write an excellent letter for you.  Here are some factors to consider when selecting a recommendation writer:

  1. How long have you known this person?
  2. Do they have experience writing letters of recommendation?
  3. Can they speak to your academic performance?  How about your involvement in activities outside of class?
  4. Can they speak about your personal struggles/challenges?
  5. Do they know your long-term goals?

No one question is necessarily more important than the other, but they can definitely be a good starting point.  The most important thing is that your writer knows you well and that you trust they will write a good review.

Asking Someone to Write Your Letter

When preparing to ask for a letter of recommendation, it's important that you have your act together.  You don't want to just arrive at your teacher's door the day before your application is due and ask them to write a recommendation on the spot.  Your recommender may not be very happy with the pressure you are putting on them, and this could show through in their letter.  You want your recommender to have all the information they need, and you want to leave them with a positive impression when asking.

Here are a couple of steps to consider when asking for a letter of recommendation:

  1. Start Now! Sound familiar?  Decide on the scholarships and universities you are going to apply to, and write down all the application deadlines.  Try to have all your application materials complete and compiled 2 weeks before they are due so you can give yourself a buffer and avoid unforeseen complications.
  2. Request a transcript.  If you provide a transcript, your writer can then speak to your academic performance and the level of challenging courses you have taken or are currently taking.
  3. List your involvement and awards.  You can do this as informally as a written list, or as formally as a formatted résumé.  The important thing is that this information is given to your writer so they can highlight how hard-working you are.  A résumé might impress your writer, and motivate them to throw in some extra superlatives (big word for positive comments).
  4. Give them plenty of time.  When possible, you should give your recommender at least 2 to 3 weeks to prepare a letter.  You never know what kind of workload they have, personal obligations at home, or even the number of letters they have currently committed to writing.  The more time you can give your writer, the happier they will be.
  5. Fill out your forms.  If there are forms associated with your recommendation, be sure to fill in all the information about you (name, identification number, email, etc.).  Never give a blank form to a recommender, as it shows you may not be as prepared as you could be.
  6. Set a due date.  Provide your writer with a timeline for when you need their application.  Never ask for the letter on the same day your application is due.  When possible, request your letter 2-weeks before the application is due so you can give your writer extra time if needed, should they find themselves unable to complete the letter in the original time frame.


After you have requested your recommendation, and the writer has accepted, be sure to follow up with them.  A  nice reminder the week before the date you have requested him or her to complete your letter can be very helpful, as they may have many letters to write, and could easily forget the date yours was requested.

Once they have written your letter, a thank you letter is always appreciated.  It might be nice to write a thank you after you receive the letter from them, as well as once you receive notification from the scholarship or university.  An easy way to do this is to purchase some basic thank you cards from the store, but you can also write a short letter and achieve the same result.  The important thing is to physically write that you are thankful for their assistance with your application.