How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation was originally published on Forage.

Letter of recommendation and a red pencil

If your career plans include graduate school or research, there’s a good chance you’ll need a few recommendation letters from your professors. While you probably asked high school teachers to write letters for you, asking a professor to write one is slightly different. How?

In this guide, we’ll help you learn how to ask for a letter of letter recommendation by covering:

Who to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Before you decide who to ask for a letter of recommendation, consider what you need the letter for. Are you applying to an MBA or MFA program? Medical or law school? Will you use the letter for an internship, research opportunity, or a job?

“A student would be well-advised to consult with a career counselor and/or advisor to brainstorm and discuss who they should ask to write on their behalf,” says Mark Peltz, department head of the center for careers, life, and service at Grinnell College. In general, the person writing the letter should know you well and have direct experience with your performance.

“A professor with whom you’ve had multiple classes or worked closely with on a research or creative project are likely those in the best position to speak to your strengths and qualifications,” says Peltz. “Similarly, others who have observed or supervised your work can make good reference writers.”

How Many People Should I Ask?

You’ll likely need more than one recommendation letter. However, asking everyone you know to write one is unlikely to work in your favor. “Writing an impactful letter of recommendation takes time, so be thoughtful about who you ask and be courteous of their time,” says Peltz.

For example, if you need two recommendation letters, identify the top two people you’d like to ask. Then select two to three alternates in case your top two choices aren’t available. But don’t ask your entire list to write letters for you to cover your bases.

If nothing else, part of asking for a letter of recommendation means you keep track of who’s submitted them. And no matter how good your tracking system is, more letter writers means more for you to track … and possibly lose track of.

When Is the Best Time to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?

You can ask a professor to write a letter of recommendation for you any time. However, with application deadlines looming, fall is the most popular time to ask for one. Peltz advises students to plan ahead and ask their top choices at least six to eight weeks ahead of the due date.

“Professors are commonly writing multiple letters of recommendation for current and former students,” and this timeline gives you a large enough buffer to follow up with reminders and nudges if you need to.

How to Ask a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation

Once you’ve identified a list of two to four top choices, here’s how to ask for a letter of recommendation.

Schedule a Meeting

Peltz advises students to request a meeting via email. “This provides both parties the opportunity to have a conversation about the student’s goals, where they are submitting applications, and other relevant matters.”

If an in-person meeting is impossible, then a phone call will do. But Peltz says you should try for some kind of face-to-face interaction whenever possible. “It gives the student an opportunity to pick up on any nonverbal cues. If the professor hedges and doesn’t respond favorably to the request, this is useful information and you may want to consider identifying an alternate reference.”

Explain Why Them

A crucial component of your ask is explaining why you are selecting this individual to write a recommendation letter for you. Though it may be obvious to you why you’re asking, you cannot assume the professor has the same understanding. Even if the reason is evident to both parties, a detailed explanation makes it clear that you’ve “given this some serious thought and there is substantive reason and motivation behind the request,” says Peltz.

In other words, you want to be precise about why you’re asking this individual, so it’s clear you aren’t asking anyone and everyone.

Give Them an Out

Not every professor may have the time to write a letter of recommendation for you or they might not be comfortable doing it, for whatever reason. Give them the chance to decline your request easily and gracefully, so it’s not awkward for either party and doesn’t damage your relationship.

Make Things Easy

Once someone agrees to write a letter of recommendation letter for you, make their task easier. Provide the letter writer with your current resume or curriculum vitae or put together a highlight sheet with the hard and soft skills you’d like them to mention, along with your short and long-term goals. Having something to reference while the professor writes your recommendation letter will help them create a document that’s specific to you.

And if there are specific criteria that must be included in the letter, pass that information along. “Failing to do so can have a major impact on the overall quality of your application,” warns Peltz.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation via Email (Sample)

Below are two sample emails you can send to someone to ask them for a letter of recommendation. The first one is asking for a meeting. The second one is asking for the letter of recommendation when meeting in person is not an option.

In both cases, start with a clear subject line (Request for Letter of Recommendation is a good choice). Then introduce yourself or refresh their mind — especially if you haven’t been in their class recently. Then briefly but clearly explain what you’re asking for, and why, and give the professor a way to gracefully decline your request.

Here’s what that looks like:

Sample 1:

Dear Professor [Name]:

My name is [Your Name]. I took your [name of class and when you took it]. I’m applying to [name of school and program], and I’d like to ask you to write a letter of recommendation for me.

I’m happy to meet with you at your convenience to discuss the details and can give you a copy of [my current resume/CV/highlight sheet] and anything else you need.

And, of course, if you can’t write a recommendation letter for me, I completely understand. Please do not feel obligated to say yes.

Thank you,

[Your Name]

Sample 2:

Dear Professor [Name]:

My name is [Your Name]. I took your [name of class and when you took it]. I’m applying to [name of school and program], and I’d like to ask you to write a letter of recommendation for me.

I’m asking you because [reason why you are asking this person] and think your letter would be a strong addition to my application. I can provide my [current resume/CV/highlight sheet] to help refresh your memory.

If you can write the letter, it’s due by [date]. Once completed, you can [include information on how they submit the letter]. I will also need [include any important requirements].

And, of course, if you can’t write a recommendation letter for me, I completely understand. Please do not feel obligated to say yes.

Thanks so much,

[Your Name]

Image credit: BeeBright / Depositphotos.com

The post How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation appeared first on Forage.

By Rachel Pelta - Forage
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