Letters of recommendation: The dos and don’ts

Blog Header: Letters of Recommendation

Anyone applying to Colorado State for the Fall 2023 term or later will no longer need to provide a recommendation as part of the application process.

All freshman applications to Colorado State University must include at least one letter of recommendation.

At CSU, we review application materials in well rounded, or holistic way. Your recommendation can be an important resource to help us consider your academic preparation. It tells us about your character and strengths, giving us a more well-rounded view of your ability to succeed at CSU.

Letters of recommendation also can play a valuable role in your scholarship search process, so it’s worth putting your best into the process.

Follow our “dos and don’ts” to make sure that your recommendation is strong.


Choose someone who understands your strengths.

When considering who you should ask, think about a person who can comfortably explain why you’ll succeed in college. We prefer teachers, counselors, or other individuals — like coaches or advisors — who have been involved in your academic life.

If you are not currently in school, consider asking another influential figure in your life, like a senior military officer you have worked with or an employer.

When you’re thinking through who can speak to your strengths, consider people who saw you struggle and overcome a challenge. You may want to to request a recommendation from a teacher from whom you earned one of your lower grades if you demonstrated some of your best qualities or learned something significant about yourself in the course of that class.

Ask early.

For most people, writing a letter of recommendation takes a lot of thought. They may write several drafts or ask you follow-up questions. Giving them extra time will result in a better experience for them and a stronger letter for you.

Review our freshman application dates and decide when you would like to submit your application. Give your recommender at least a month to prepare.

Give them prompts.

Teachers and counselors are often asked to write multiple letters of recommendation, so it’s never a bad idea to offer a few tips for what to include in your letter.

A strong letter of recommendation not only mentions how the individual knows you, but it also showcases your strengths with examples.

Talk with them about times when you learned something important in class, excelled in a project, or persevered through a tough situation. Also, don’t forget to discuss your college plans and how you’ll continue to grow in the future.

Make sure they understand all the details.

Once your recommender accepts your request, make sure they understand the fine print including the submission directions and the due date. It’s on you, not them, to make sure they understand the process.

You’ll also need to get their full name and email address to submit in your application for admission. We’ll reach out to them through email with submission instructions, so tell them to keep their eyes out for an email from the CSU Office of Admissions.


Force them into it.

You’ll have a much stronger letter of recommendation if it comes from someone who is confident about recommending you.

When asking someone to write a recommendation, start the conversation by asking if they would feel comfortable recommending you to a college or university, and what they would say. Gauge their reaction; if it isn’t completely positive or they have a hard time finding reasons to recommend you, move along to someone else.

Ask a family member.

Under no circumstances should you submit a letter of recommendation from a family member. Most universities will not look at the letter favorably, and it will not make your application stronger.

Understandably, family members may give a biased opinion of your ability to succeed at CSU, so look instead to teachers, counselors or other influential people in your academic life.

Still not sure who to ask?

Contact your admissions counselor. They’ll be happy to help you sort through the possibilities and support you as you decide who will best speak to your strengths.

Jill Baylis

Jill was a staff member in the Office of Admissions until 2019 when she moved to Denver. As a first-generation college student, she focused on simplifying the college admissions process and helping future Rams find community on campus.