Steps to follow before you ask your professors to write letters of recommendation, plus a sample letter.
Letters of recommendation can be critical parts of job, internship, and graduate-school applications. Asking for a letter of recommendation correctly, and providing those writing letters for you with needed information, will help to ensure that the letter written for you is as good as it can be.
One responsibility of anyone who works with students is to provide letters of recommendation as these students progress through their education. Although most of your professors are busy, a part of what we are all expected to do is write letters of recommendation. So, you should not feel that you are asking something unreasonable of a professor when you ask him or her to write a letter of recommendation for you.
However, a professor who is willing to write a letter for you is going out of his or her way to do so. Also, a well-crafted letter of recommendation requires significant effort, and you do want your letter to be crafted well, so a professor who writes a well-crafted letter for you is going even a bit more out of his or her way. Consequently, you want to maximize the clarity of your appreciation for a professor who is writing you a letter and minimize the work that a professor must accomplish to write a well-crafted letter for you.
Timing: Two weeks is the minimum lead-time you should give a professor to complete a letter of recommendation. If you need the letter in less than two weeks, you need to acknowledge clearly, and probably several times, that you are aware that you are not providing the time that you should provide (“I know that I am not giving you much time to write this letter, but I just became aware of this scholarship.”). A month is better than two weeks.
The Initial Request for a Letter: My view is that asking for things is best done in person, when that is possible. So, I suggest that you ask for a letter in person, if you can. This might mean coming before class or staying after class to ask about the possibility, or going to a professor’s office hours to ask. If you rarely see the professor and the professor is likely to know you, then you could write an email asking for a letter. The initial request is often a quick exchange. Typically, you would want to:
• Start by asking for the letter straight-out, “Professor Smith, I would like to ask you to write a letter of recommendation for me.”
• Say briefly what the letter is for, “I’m applying for. . . and I need a letter from two of my professors.”
• Maybe say something a bit flattering, such as “You probably know me better than most of my other professors,” or “I liked the honors course I took from you last semester very much and we had many interesting discussions so I think you know me pretty well.”
• Finish up with when the letter is due and that, if the professor can write the letter for you, you can bring the needed materials by the professor’s office.
A Thank-you Email: Soon after you make the initial request, you should follow with a thank-you email. This will remind the professor about the letter and is a polite thing to do. “Thanks again, Professor Smith, for being willing to write the letter or recommendation for me for (whatever it was). I will be bringing the applications by your office soon. Thanks again.”
In some cases, the letter of recommendation is submitted over the web, and the professor will be getting a note from the organization requesting the recommendation. If this is the case, be sure to include specific information about this in your thank-you email. With all the junk we get through email, it can be easy for a professor to delete the request if it comes from some organization that the professor does not recognize.
The amount and type of material you give to the professor will depend on the reason for the letter. Whatever it is that you give the professor, it should be very well organized. Once you have all the material together, put everything in an envelope big enough to hold it all without too much folding. Write something like “letter of recommendation for . . .” on the envelope. Do not bring a stack of material and hope that the professor can keep everything together. You do not want something vital to get lost. It is up to you to organize things well.
And, it is very important to have a cover letter (or cover note) that is at the front of all the material, that states your name, what the letter is for, how the professor will submit it (e.g., will someone be sending a link to an online letter, does the letter get mailed), and other important information. Even if you tell the professor all this information, repeat it again in this note. I, for one, deal with lots of students every day, and it is easy for me to forget important information that one of them may have told me. Redundancy is always a good idea in these types of situations. (I just added this paragraph to this blog entry, and the addition was prompted by the fact that I have a request to write a letter to some foundation sitting on my desk. I have no idea who this is for. This is a problem. Yes, I should have noted the student's name on the form, but I forgot. I am hoping that I can find out who needs this letter.)
Application materials: These may include forms that the professor completes and envelopes for returning the forms to you or mailing them directly to the institution to which you are applying.
• First, remember to fill out everything on the form that you can complete. Where it asks for the name and address of the professor, you should write that in. You are, after all, the person who hopes to benefit from the letter - so it is your responsibility to do as much work as you can on it - relieving the professor from these tasks. If there is a place for you to sign the form, sign and date it.
This is also true for online letters of recommendation. Fill in all the information for the professor that you can. Do not expect the professor to put in the address of the university or her title. You can do this.
• Second, if the professor will be mailing the letters, you should provide envelopes, address them, and attach the proper postage. Then, paper clip each envelope to the corresponding form. Do not expect the professor to match up a stack of forms with a stack of envelopes - again, you should be doing everything you can to make the task easy for the professor.
Supporting materials: Some supporting material should be included with every request for a letter:
• A resume, even if it is not very long. If you are in your first year of college, you might include some high-school activities on this resume. Be sure to check the spelling and layout of the resume. I am amazed at the high percentage of resumes I receive that have at least one spelling error. As I am looking at your resume in preparation for writing your letter, you do not want me to see that you cannot write a resume carefully.
• A transcript. This does not have to be an official transcript. Print it from My UAlbany - that is sufficient. If you are a freshman and do not have any grades yet, you might want to print the courses you are taking now and will be taking next semester.
• Specifics on any course you have taken with the professor: Either on your transcript or a separate piece of paper, you can provide information about papers you have written for the professor. For example, give the title of any paper you wrote and the grade you received, or maybe include the abstract along with the grade you received, or maybe make a copy of the abstract and the page on which the professor wrote comments and the grade. If you wrote a couple short papers, maybe include the entire papers.
It may also be helpful to include other specialized supporting materials.
• If you are a senior and applying to graduate school, you might include a draft of your personal statement and the abstract from your honors thesis.
• If you are applying for an internship and have written a paper in a course that is relevant to the internship, include a copy of the paper.
• If you are applying for a scholarship or entrance to some program and that scholarship or program has a website, include the URL.
You do not want to load the professor down with information that is not relevant to the task of writing the letter (e.g., the papers you wrote for other courses), but provide anything else that might be useful. If the professor does not want to use it, he or she will toss it out. Now, it is true that this might cost you some additional money copying material for a professor - but the payoff of this addition dollar or two may be substantial. So, keep the big picture in mind.
I always ask students to send me a reminder a week before the letter is due (or the first letter is due if I am sending the letter to multiple locations). I believe that it is appropriate for you to send an email reminder to the professors who you asked to write a letter. Send it about 7-10 days before the letter is due. The reminder should be brief: “Dear Professor Smith, I’m writing to remind you that the letter of recommendation for the Alsijflaskdhfj Scholarship is due in a week. If I can provide any additional information about the Alsijflaskdhfj Scholarship, please let me know.” This way, it is not only a reminder, it is also an offer to provide additional information if needed.
Take a bit of time and write a thank-you note to the professor, after the letters have been sent. Thanking people is always the correct thing to do. I get about 70 emails a day and about 1 written note a month. So, a note is more notable (what a great line!).
A Follow-up Note: When you hear from the schools/programs/etc. you have applied to, send the professor a note (an email is probably OK). Give her or him the outcome, even if it is not positive. Thank the professor again.
Steps to follow before you ask your professors to write letters of recommendation, plus a sample letter.
When you are completing undergraduate or graduate studies, or have earned your degree recently, you will likely want to ask a professor or an academic advisor for a recommendation as you begin to apply for jobs.
College professors, particularly those who have taught you in multiple classes, can provide powerful recommendations for employers and for graduate school. After all, they have observed you analyze, write, articulate your views, and present to groups.
Professors can also attest to the overall caliber and quality of your work. Many professors have an abundance of contacts in the professional world, including ex-students and consulting clients, and they usually have a high degree of credibility with these contacts.
People familiar with your academic work and performance are excellent choices to ask for recommendations as you begin your career. You may not have a lot of related work experience in your chosen field, and your professors can speak about the knowledge and skills you have demonstrated that will help you succeed in the industry you are targeting.
If possible, request a reference letter from a professor or advisor who knows you well and respects your work and character. That is, don't request a reference from a professor if you were frequently tardy or absent from the class or did not receive a good grade. Ideally, choose someone who you've spoken to outside of the classroom — during office hours, for instance, or at departmental activities.
As well, respect people's schedules — if possible, request a reference letter several weeks in advance of when the semester ends or when you'll need it.
Although they may have a very positive general impression of you, the most convincing references will require them to give a fair amount of detail to support their positive assertions. You can help them to accomplish this by supplying some of this detail when you make your request.
Prepare a summary document that lists each course you took with the professor and references any papers or projects that you successfully completed. Include the grade for individual projects as well as the overall grade for the course. If you have saved a couple of papers that were well-received— those with glowing comments in red—supply copies of those documents.
Share your resume to give the professor a summary of your extracurricular achievements and your work experience. Describe in writing the types of jobs you're after, and the qualifications that you are focusing on.
Including a copy of a cover letter can help with this process. If possible, point to specific classes or projects where you may have showcased some of the core skills you would like the recommendation to emphasize.
If you're still in school or living near campus, try to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the professor. Ask if the faculty member would be comfortable endorsing you as a candidate for the types of jobs you're applying to, and then ask if you can stop in during office hours or chat over a cup of coffee to discuss the matter further. Then, follow up with an email or letter to your prospective faculty reference with the attached documents.
Make sure you state precisely what you are asking them to do such as to write a general letter of recommendation for your credential file, to write a recommendation for a specific job, or for permission to list them as a reference.
Give your faculty members as much advance notice as possible. Towards the end of the semester, they may be burdened by grading papers and exams as well as writing recommendations for many other students.
When sending the email message include your name in the subject line. (For example: "Joe Smith: Recommendation Request.")
If you don't know the professor or advisor well, make your connection clear in the email. For instance, you can say, "I enjoyed your class on XYZ, which I attended in fall 2017." It can also be helpful to include a summary of related coursework and school activities, along with your resume and cover letter.
The more detailed information you provide, the easier it will be for the reference writer to endorse you.
Download the Word Template
123 Main Street
Anytown, CA 12345
September 1, 2018
123 Business Rd.
Business City, NY 54321
Dear Professor Lee,
I have greatly enjoyed and benefited from the four classes that I took with you over the past three years. I was hoping that you might know me well enough and have a high enough regard for my abilities to write a general recommendation for my credentials file.
As you can see from the attached cover letter, I am targeting positions in the publishing industry which will draw upon my writing and editing skills, as well as my organizational ability.
I have included a summary sheet to refresh your memory about some of my key papers including my senior thesis. I have also attached my resume which will bring you up to date about some of my accomplishments outside the classroom.
Please let me know if you are comfortable endorsing my candidacy for jobs in the publishing industry. I would be happy to answer any questions and provide further information which will help you to write your recommendation. Can we meet during your office hours to discuss this further?
Thanks so much for all you have done for me and for taking the time to review this request.
Subject: Jessica Angel Recommendation Request
Dear Ms. Jones,
I am writing to you to request that you provide a reference for me as I begin my job search. As you know, I will be completing my graduate studies this spring, and have found several exciting opportunities that I am exploring.
As my undergraduate thesis advisor and mentor, I believe that a reference from you would provide a potential employer with information to recommend me as a school counselor.
If you need any additional information, please contact me via email or phone.
Thank you very much for your consideration and support.
Once your professor writes the reference, make sure to send a thank-you note to your reference, acknowledging the favor. You can either send a handwritten note or an email.
Keep your faculty members up to date with your job search as it progresses. Make sure to let them know if you an employer seems to be ready to conduct a reference check. You should also provide the professor with a job description and copy of your cover letter so they will be prepared should they receive a call.
During the application process, much of the process is in the hands of the applicant, but recommendation letters are often in the hands of the recommenders. You can't control what someone says, or whether or not they'll meet the deadline, but you can make the process run more smoothly overall. This resource is designed to offer applicants advice on handling the occasionally sticky process of requesting letters of recommendation.
The first thing you'll want to do when planning for recommendation letters is to organize your application materials. For example: Where are you applying, and to which program(s)? What do you need to send them? What criteria will each school look at when considering applicants? Collect transcripts and test scores as well, and compile a dossier on yourself. You'll want to provide your recommenders with as much information as possible. Even if you think they know you very well, they might find it useful to have reference material. If there are any other particular points on which you'd like them to focus--such as your extracurricular or research activity--be sure that you have a document with that information available for your recommenders. You may also want to include a copy of your résumé or CV.
It's important to compile this information before you determine whom you'll ask for your letters of recommendation, as it can save considerable amounts of time. It also gives your recommenders the impression that you are well prepared. Taking the time to compile this information for potential reviewers can also highlight gaps that might appear in your other application materials, gaps that might be filled by approaching the right person for a letter of recommendation. Perhaps, you are applying to a school that values research, but your research background—as it is presented in your other application documents—appears lacking. This means that it might be beneficial to get a recommendation from a professor that has worked with you on research, or that could speak to your potential to carry out meaningful research.
It may also be helpful to prepare any essays, or writing samples, that you might need in advance. Your potential recommenders may want to see your work in progress. Providing your recommenders with the writing samples that you plan to include in your graduate school application gives them addition reference material while writing your recommendation. Given the time-sensitive nature of these documents, you do not want to be caught unprepared should a recommender ask for a copy of your writing sample. Being unprepared may delay the process, which can have potentially negative consequences for your application.
Unfortunately, there is no standard submission format for recommendation letters. Some school will require that you use a standardized form specific to that school or program, some will accept more traditional letters, and others will require electronic submissions. Be sure that you keep track of the format required for the schools to which you are applying. If the school requires that you use a standardized form that they provide, be sure to take a copy of that form with you when you approach potential recommenders. Also, be sure that you have filled out any required, personal information on the form. This may include information such as: your name and the program to which you are applying. It may also include a box where you can give up your right to see what your recommenders have written. Please note that you are not required to waive your right to see the letters that your recommenders have written. However, not waiving this right may limit what and how your recommender might write their letter.
Choosing who you will ask to write your recommendation letters is very important, and if you are fortunate enough to have several potential recommenders, narrow your list down early. You’ll want to approach your potential recommenders early because many professors and professionals often find themselves inundated with recommendation requests during the application season.
Your field of study will play a large role in your choice of potential recommenders, as you will want to have at least one person who knows your work, and the field, quite well. If you completed any internships or fieldwork, professionals who you have worked alongside of may be excellent choices for potential recommenders. However, if you are having problems finding potential recommenders from within your field, remember that sheer academic readiness can count for a lot. Professors in related fields may also make good choices, so long as they are familiar with your character and your work ethic.
Regardless of your field of study, choose recommenders you are certain are familiar with your scholarship, skills, and personality. A boilerplate letter from a big name in your field may not be worth as much as a lesser-known scholar who can speak candidly about you as an individual. It may also be wise to have a backup recommender in case one of your recommenders is unable, for any reason, to complete a letter or two on time.
There is no one ideal way to request a recommendation letter—your relationship with and access to the potential recommender will determine your best course of action—but there are certain steps you can take to facilitate the process. While you may want to ask some potential recommenders in person, it is always a good idea to follow up with a reference request letter or email. See the OWL's resource on requesting employment references for a model. This allows you to track the date you requested the reference. If they have already agreed in person, reference the conversation, but still include the relevant information about the school to which you are applying, the due date for the letter of recommendation, and the method for letter submission—paper, electronic, etc. You may also want to include the application materials mentioned above (CV, writing sample, etc.) so that your recommender is prepared.
Make your requests early. Give your letter-writers at least six weeks to complete the letters, though ideally, eight to ten weeks is a comfortable amount of time. If you are applying to eight or more schools, you may want to begin twelve to fourteen weeks before the deadline.
Set reminders on your calendar for follow-up dates. Many recommenders will inform you that the letters have been sent, but it is a good idea to follow-up on the status of your letters just in case. This can be done by contacting the school or program to which you are applying. If the school is requiring electronic recommendation letters, it may be possible to track these online. Work backwards from the deadline, setting reminders at one, two, and four weeks before the deadline date. Inquire politely as to the state of your letters, and ask your recommenders if they need any additional information or if they have encountered any problems. Send these follow-ups via e-mail, unless you know a recommender is unlikely to keep up with e-mail. Do not be afraid to follow-up with your recommenders. Professors and other professionals are busy individuals, and they may appreciate the follow-up. Be polite, courteous, and, when necessary, firm in your follow-ups.
Some schools allow applicants to collect sealed letters and include them with their application packets. While this may cost extra postage, it does allow a measure of certainty regarding the status of the recommendation letters, as you will often collect all of your letters of recommendation for a particular school before sending them in together as part of your application packet. Schools with fully electronic applications may also display information about whether or not a letter has been submitted. If a letter has not been submitted, check in periodically with the schools, even after a recommender says they have sent letters. Materials sometimes get lost in the shuffle, or are misfiled. Keep up with your applications. You may find it helpful to include a spreadsheet or handwritten chart that tracks the status of recommendation letters.
Many people send their recommenders thank-you cards or small gifts after their applications are complete. A handwritten note, a small gift card, or baked goods are popular choices, though decisions should be tailored to the individuals. This a nice way to thank recommenders, particularly those who have written many recommendations on your behalf. You may need to ask them for further letters down the road. Not everyone is successful on his or her first attempt at getting into graduate school, and even students who are accepted sometimes turn down offers in favor of trying again in the next application season for a better offer. Sending thank-you notes or gifts can pave the way for asking for more letters on subsequent attempts.
It is also a good idea to keep your recommenders apprised of the outcome of your applications. Do not inundate them with e-mails every time you receive a response from a school, but do let them know about your final results. Your recommenders have invested time and effort in your academic career; they will want to know if their work has paid off.
STEP 3: Determine your approach for requesting a recommendation letter: Letter: Should addresses the specific writer, thank them for agreeing to write the.
While you’re navigating high school and your classes, you should try to make a good impression and form a good relationship with each of your teachers. Not only will this make it easier to ask for help and navigate your classes throughout high school, but it will also give you a plethora of options to choose from when deciding which teachers are going to write your recommendation letters.
Ideally, the teacher who writes your recommendation has known you for a long time, thinks you are a great student and a great candidate for college, and has some positive experiences with you that her or she can talk about. Once you’ve identified which teachers fit that profile best, you need to kindly and thoughtfully request a letter of recommendation from them, preferably at the beginning of your senior year or earlier.
When it comes time to request letters of recommendation, you need to make sure you do it right. After all, teachers are busy, they don’t get paid for writing your letter of recommendation, and they probably have many other students asking them for letters of recommendation as well. You want to make sure you ask your teacher to write you a recommendation well ahead of time and in a kind and respectful manner so that he or she agrees.
In order to ensure the best possible recommendation letters for your college applications, make sure to follow these nine guidelines for requesting a letter of recommendation. As long as you do the following, your teacher is unlikely to turn you down!
Ideally, you should know which teachers you want to write your recommendation letters well in advance of the start of your college applications. By the end of your junior year, start thinking about which teachers you have had the greatest relationships with throughout your high school career. Try to narrow it down to the 2 or 3 teachers whom you think would be the best to ask.
Some teachers are kind enough to accept recommendation letter requests during the summer before your senior year so that they have ample time to write you a great letter. Those teachers are incredible, so be sure be sure to catch them and ask before summer vacation starts.
For those teachers who are willing to write you a letter but will need to wait until the Fall, make sure to ask them at the beginning of your senior year, or at least ask them a few months before the application deadline. This way, they’ll have ample time to put together a good letter for you. Advanced notice is crucial if you want to get a good letter.
Remember, writing recommendation letters is not part of a teacher’s job. If a teacher agrees to write you a letter, he or she is doing it purely out of the goodness of his/her heart. You should be grateful for this and take this into consideration when asking your teachers.
Thus, asking for a recommendation letter shouldn’t just be a two sentence email telling them that they have to write you a letter. If you can, take the time to stop by their classroom, chat with them, catch up, and then ask politely whether they have the time/would be willing to help you get into college by writing you a letter of recommendation. Show that you are asking them to do this for you because you trust them and they were one of your favorite teachers.
If asking your teacher in person is not an option and you have to request a letter of recommendation by email, make sure that it is written formally and kindly. Be sure to include some updates on your life and other relevant information in the email along with some nice compliments about your teacher’s teaching style and some fond memories you have of him/her.
The unfortunate truth is that not all recommendation letters are created equal. Some teachers take the time to write extraordinary letters that absolutely shower a student with praise. These are the teachers you want to try to find sooner rather than later.
Other teachers may write a generic letter, a short letter, or they may even just get a template letter off of the internet. Usually, a teacher will be honest about what kind of letter they are going to write if you ask them. If they tell you you won’t get a personalized letter from them, it’s not that they don’t mean well. Rather, some teachers are just busier than others and some have more experience in writing recommendation letters than others.
Keep in mind that when you’re asking what kind of letter you might get, you need to make sure you phrase it correctly. Don’t ask your teacher whether she or he is going to write you a good letter or a bad letter or whether your teacher spends a lot of time on each letter. Just ask your teacher how they usually format their letters or what kind of information about the student they like to add in their letters. That’ll probably give you all the indication you need for what kind of letter this teacher would write for you.
While you’re corresponding with the teacher who is writing your recommendation letter, don’t be sloppy. Remember that this teacher is evaluating you for a college, and they will probably draw on the most recent experiences they can remember with you. Thus, you need to make sure that the interactions you have while they’re writing your letter or when you ask for a letter are professional, kind, and well-mannered.
More specifically, this means that if you’re emailing a teacher, make sure it is a professional email with no grammatical mistakes and spelling errors. It should also be formatted correctly, as discussed in our comprehensive guide to e-mail etiquette for high schoolers.If you’re talking to the teacher in person, you don’t have to be too formal, but you should make sure you are polite, well-dressed, and well-mannered throughout the interaction.
Here's a complete guide on how to ask and what you should give to them Asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation can feel.