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  • Writer's pictureLTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.

Recommendation Letters and the U.S. Service Academies

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

Collecting good LORs early in the application process is vital for an competitive candidate

Letters of recommendation are a key part of your service academy application

Letters of recommendation (LORs) are often an important piece of your application to all of the U.S. service academies. In fact, many of your Members of Congress will require LORs for their nomination applications. I ask my students to start the process of collecting LORs at the start of their junior year. Surprised?

Let's review what I call the "Four R's of Recommendations." They are: the relationship, the request, the rendezvous and the (w)rap-up.

The Relationship

Most of my students would have no problem doing well in a class sitting in the back row and essentially just listening closely during each class session. However, your teacher will never get to know you. It is imperative that you build a good relationship with your teacher by sitting up front, participating actively in class and completing all of the class assignments on time and well. If you follow this advice, then your request for an LOR should be met with a positive and enthusiastic response.

Effectively, to build a good strong relationship, you must 'start' the process for the LOR at the beginning of your junior year. Put in the work and then the request should be 'easy.'

The Request

I recommend making the request for the LOR in the March/April time frame. The good news is that you will not likely be competing with other rising seniors for a letter from the teacher, plus she/he will know you quite well after a full academic year. Imagine if you made the same request later in the fall when your nomination application is due in September or October? Your junior year teachers are ideal candidates for the LORs that are required for your applications. Plus, you won't have to compete with other seniors 'next year' for the same letters as the fall is a very busy time for teachers and LORs.

The Rendezvous

The next step is the "meeting" -- set-up a short meeting (or rendezvous) to give your teacher your résumé and, perhaps, some details around your success in their particular discipline. By the way, this blog that provides some good pointers for your résumé.

The more your teachers knows about you, the easier it will be for them to write an LOR. For my students, I also provide an LOR Guide (that I have written) outlining some particular details for a good service academy LOR. One last item for the meeting: establish a concrete date for the delivery of the letter.

The wRap-Up

Get the letter! Often, students do not follow-up in a timely manner to collect the LOR. If you mutually agreed with your teacher that May 3 was the designated delivery date, and you do not have it in hand on the 4th, then immediately follow-up with your teacher. It's critical that you collect the letters.

Some other LORs, such as a letter from your coach, Scoutmaster, CAP commander or others, can be collected over the summer, especially if you can contact these recommenders more readily. Teachers are often more difficult to catch, and, frankly, their opinion of you is not going to change over the summer. Collect the LOR by the end of the school year!

Recommendations letters are important. You will use them with your applications to the different U.S. service academies -- USMA, USAFA, USNA, USMMA and USCGA -- along with your nominations. Follow the four R's of LORs, and you will be off to a great start!

[I would welcome a chance to discuss details with you. I offer coaching services to pace and prepare you (and your parents!) for the entire Academy application process . . . along with the even more advice around your LORs! Contact me at chris@cbbrechin.com, 503.515.7406 or complete my contact form on the home page.]


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