Undergraduate Admission Blog

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September 19, 2013

Asking for Letters of Recommendations: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


Asking a teacher to write you a letter of recommendation can be a daunting task. For one thing, most of the time, you will never actually see what they write about you, so there is a lot of trust that goes into the process. And two, they could say no, which might make you wonder if they were actually too busy, or if they just didn’t have enough nice things to say about you to fill up an entire page!

Here, we will lay out some tips for asking for a letter of recommendation:

The Good:

•Ask a teacher who you have formed a connection with to write you a recommendation, whose course in which you have worked exceptionally hard, and/or whose subject you are passionate about. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the teacher of the course in which you received the highest grade. Sometimes, the best recommendations are the ones that are able to truly convey the hard work and dedication a student has put into a class.

•Provide your recommender with a resume, transcript, and anything else that will be helpful for them to personalize your recommendation.

•Have variety in your recommenders. While we only require one letter of recommendation from an academic source for most majors at USC, if you do choose to submit more than one, you should ask someone that can highlight a different aspect of your personality.

The Bad:

•Forgetting the thank you note! You recommenders spend a lot of time on these letters. Don’t forget to show them that you appreciate their efforts.

•Asking your recommender a few days in advance of the due date for a letter. Remember that many teachers (and counselors especially) will have to write many letters during the Fall months, and that leaving your request until the last minute will not make them very happy.

The Ugly:

•Submitting ten letters of recommendation! Or even five, for that matter. Again, we only require one letter of recommendation, so be mindful of how many extra letters you send. Frankly, multiple letters rarely offer any fresh information.

So remember, give your recommenders plenty of advanced warning, ask someone whose class you’ve worked hard in, be thoughtful in the number of additional letters you submit, and don’t forget to show your appreciation!


  1. Leilah Rodriguez says:


    I am a senior at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, CA, preparing to apply to your school, and I wanted to ask further about the letters of recommendation portion of your blog. I understand that too many letters can prove to be, frankly, obnoxious, but is it okay to have several letters from different parts of the applicant’s life? For example, one from their Academic Adviser, another from a former teacher, and another from a religious leader or extra-curricular leader (such as a coach)?

    The sooner you can respond to me, the better! Thank you so much!

    • Courtney Wilk says:

      Thanks for your interest in USC, Leilah. Yes, even though we only require one letter of recommendation, you can submit more than one if you would like. Do keep in mind, though, that we value the quality of the letters over the quantity, and therefore you should be selective of the letters you choose to submit. Best of luck!

  2. Tamara Lee says:

    I am interested in applying as a transfer student for the Fall term of 2014. I just needed some clarification on whether or not a letter of recommendation is required for transfer students as well, or if they’re only optional.

    Thank you in advance!

    • Courtney Wilk says:

      Yes, while we do not require the registrar’s report, you must submit one academic evaluation. Certain programs may require more than one, so it is important to check the departmental website before proceeding.

  3. Jessica says:


    I am a senior at Granite Hills High School in Apple Valley, CA, planning to apply to USC but I have one question that concerns me in asking for a letter of recommendation.

    I have been an exceptional student at my school by keeping my grade level high and staying involved in the areas I want to thrive in at college, but the only person I have a strong connection with is my Drama/Choir teacher. Would asking him for a recommendation count?

    Any advice would be most helpful, and receiving it soon would be even better! Thank you very much!

    • Courtney Wilk says:

      You are certainly welcome to have your Drama/Choir teacher submit a letter of recommendation on your behalf, but I would also have either your counselor or a teacher from one of your core academic subjects submit a letter.

  4. Amanda says:

    Hello! I’m 25 years old and preparing to apply to USC as a transfer student (I earned an Associate’s degree at a community college in Arizona a couple of years ago). I would like to know how ‘recent’ a letter of recommendation should be. I worked for the reference in question about 7 years ago, but the field was closely related to the degree I want to pursue now. My more recent work experience isn’t related whatsoever. What would you say the cut-off is for a reference like this?

    Thank you so much for your time!

    • Courtney Wilk says:

      The letter of recommendation should be from an academic source, so either a counselor or professor at the community college in Arizona. You may choose to submit a supplemental letter from your reference from several years ago.

  5. Courtney Wilk says:

    You can send the letter to our general mailing address, which is USC Office of Admission, Undergraduate, University Park Campus, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0911. You should also include your USC ID number on the outside of the envelope. If you do not know your USC ID number, you can call our general admission line at 213-740-1111 and they can retrieve that number for you.

  6. Udai Bhatnagar says:

    Hi! I am a student from India and would like to apply to USC for game design and Interactive Media. Do I require letters of recommendation? If yes, Then how many and from whom would be preferred?

    Than You

  7. Brittany says:

    Hi, I’m thinking about applying to USC this fall. Although only one letter of recommendation in an academic course is required, would it be beneficial to get a second letter of recommendation from a coach who knows you pretty well personally?

  8. Daniel Akavi says:


    I am a current senior at the Istanbul International Community School, applying to USC for fall 2015. Currently I have 2 teachers writing letters of recommendation (literature teacher & film teacher) as well as my school’s college counselor. Considering the maxiumum letters of recommendation is 3 on the common app website, I would like to make an inquiry about an extra one and how I may be able to incorporate one. I took a 4-week college credit creative writing course at USC over the summer, and my professor (one of the many English professors at USC) has offered to write me a letter of recommendation specifically for USC, in addition to my summer grade. I would think this would have added value in showing a recommendation from a source outside my school, and so I was wondering how I might go about incorporating this into my application. Any suggestions as to how I could go about this?

    Thank you.

  9. Arjun Narayan says:


    Was wondering for letters of recommendation, if it matters what teacher(s) we submit letters from (based on subject), and also if 2 vs 3 letters makes a difference, as I know 3 teachers is possible to submit.


    • Sam Schreiber says:

      Hi Arjun,

      We only require 1 letter of recommendation so any additional should really be adding new and important information. We have no preference on the subject the teacher instructs as long as it is academic. Thanks for reading!