You are going to need at least one letter of recommendation as part of your college application. While it is your recommender’s job to write and submit the letter, you have the responsibility of seeking out the best person to give you a reference and providing them the information or material they will need to offer a strong recommendation.

You will most likely need to provide a letter of recommendation from a teacher or person who can write about your academic achievements. You’ll also want them to be able to brag about your character and leadership skills. Chose a teacher who knows you from the classroom and your extra-curricular activities, and it’s always a bonus if the teacher is from a subject that you want to study in college. If you need additional references, pick someone who can write about your work ethic and community service, such as your work supervisor, faith leader, mentor, or community organizer. Remember, colleges and universities will not accept letters of recommendation from family members.

While most people are more than happy to write a letter of recommendation, make sure you have a backup reference in the event your first choice says they can’t give you a reference.

Once you’ve figured out who you think can write a great letter of recommendation, you should gather all of the information they will need to know to write and submit their reference. This information includes deadlines, online submission links, letter requirements (e.g. min/max length, topics to be covered, etc.), and maybe even a copy of your résumé to serve as a reference of all the amazing things you’ve done during high school.

Now, all you need to do is ask. If possible, ask your reference at least a month before the deadline, or from when you want to submit your application, in order to give them enough time to write, edit, and submit the letter. It’s okay to check-in once or twice to see where they are in the process. Keep in mind that you will not submit the letter yourself, rather, your reference will send it directly to the admissions office (via an online submission or in the mail).

Side Note: As part of the application process, you will be asked to sign a FERPA waiver for your letters of recommendation (FERPA is the law that keeps your educational record private). Signing the waiver, which is standard practice, means that the reference is not obligated to share a copy of the letter with you, and is seen as a good-faith effort to let your reference write candidly.

Once you know the letter has been submitted, be sure to thank your reference. A handwritten thank you card is always a nice gesture (and a good adulting habit), and let them know when you get your admissions decision. They’ll be more than happy to celebrate with you!