Have you found yourself stumbling, sweating and stuttering while gathering enough courage to ask someone for a letter recommendation for your college application? You hope and pray that someone will say yes, and if you get through that hurdle, you hope that they at least write something nice about you. Here’s an important life lesson:

HOPE IS NOT A STRATEGY.

If you want to take the awkwardness out of asking for letters of recommendation for college applications AND ensure that the letters will not destroy your chances of getting accepted into your dream school, keep on reading.

Having strong letters of recommendation is an important part of your college application process. However, it is probably one of the most awkward and uncomfortable situations that you have to deal with when it comes to applying for college.  Your teachers, counselors or coaches are so busy, and it can feel like you are bothering them when you ask them to do a favor for you by writing a letter of recommendation. It’s important to remember that every year, dozens of seniors just like you approach them asking for letters of recommendation for their application packets. If you want to make sure that your letter of recommendation is strong and that you keep a good relationship with your recommender, follow these three tips:

1. Ask the recommender, “Will you be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation for me by (insert due date)?” Throw in a word like “strong” or “positive” into your request. It gives the recommender an opportunity to decline writing the letter if they don’t feel that they can write a good one for you, which can be a blessing. As shocking as this may seem, I have seen letters of recommendation that have said something to the effect of “This student can’t handle stress well and is not a good fit for your school” or “I do not know this student very well because he never participates in class.” Don’t let this happen to you.

2. Give the recommender at least a week to write the letter. Nothing will irritate your recommender more than if you ask for a letter of recommendation the day before your application is due. They may say yes if they feel sorry for you or you have a really great relationship. Otherwise, you’ll get a big, fat, “I don’t have enough time,” as a response. No matter how many recommendation letters your recommender has written over the years, the process still takes time. Respect that. The more time you can give your recommender to write the letter, the better.

3. Let the recommender know what you would like them to highlight about in the letter or, better yet, offer to give them a draft. The key here is to make it easy for your recommender to write an awesome letter for you. Each recommender will have their own style, so ask what they would prefer. Some will need just your personal statement and resume while others will like a full draft of what your ideal letter would look like. Put in the effort now, and you will have a higher chance of getting a better result.

When the college admissions committee reviews your application, one thing that they look for is to see what kind of relationships and networks have you been able to build during high school. It is an opportunity for the admissions committee to get to know you on a different level. The letter of recommendation can sometimes highlight different things about you that you may not necessarily focus a lot on in your personal statement or the other essays in your application. It’s also a way to find out how other adults perceive you and what kind of value you have been able to bring in classes, committees or other extracurricular activities.

Try out these tips and let me know how it goes in the comments below.