The Delicate Art of Asking for Letters of Recommendation From Professors
Timing Is Everything
If possible give each recommender three to four weeks. Two weeks minimum. Professors usually receive requests for recommendation letters from many students. Getting your request in early will result in a stronger letter, which ultimately helps you!
The Person You Ask Is Essential
They should know you fairly well. If you have written a thesis, done research under a professor, or taken several courses from a professor, ask that person. If an application gives specific guidelines regarding who should write a letter on your behalf (for example: a professor who has taught you in class, an academic advisor, a research supervisor™), be sure to follow those guidelines carefully. Most, or all, of the recommendation letters should be written by people in your field (or a related field).
Targeting The Letter
You need your recommender - to the extent possible - to write a targeted letter of recommendation. The letter should demonstrate that the referee knows what is unique and special about that school/program in particular and why you are a great fit for that environment. The more competitive the school/program to which you are applying, the more important having a targeted letter is.
Method Is Key
Ask for the letter in person, if possible. If you know the recommenders well and have already mentioned the fact that you are applying, it is okay to ask by email. If the person seems more traditional, it may be more appropriate to ask in person.
What To Include
Give the person as much information as you know about yourself and why you're applying. Include the following information:
- A statement on what motivates you to apply to this program. Why does it fit you and your goals? What are your goals in pursuing this program?
- Give them a copy of your application, statement of purpose, writing sample, etc.
- A resumé or curriculum vitae. If you don't have one, get over to Office of Career and Professional Development today!
- Tell them about the program itself.
- Give them the mailing address, or, if the letter should be submitted electronically, tell them you will send the link by email. Be as precise as possible; don't leave out any details on the instructions. And, remember to follow-through.
- Inform them of the precise deadline.
- Ask them if they will send you an email once they have submitted the letter. But, remember, follow-up is ultimately your responsibility.
How To Ask The Question
Make sure that the recommenders feel comfortable giving you a strong recommendation. You can politely ask, "Would you be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation for me?" If they are not comfortable, it is better that you choose someone else.
Don't be shy. Remember that Professors love to see students who desire to continue in their field so are generally happy to provide letters of recommendation. They also depend on recommendations from others in their professional lives.
And remember, it is your responsibility to monitor the professor's remembering what the due date is for submitting the recommendation. A few days before the letter must be submitted, you will want to send an email reminder or double-check to see if the recommenders have any final questions they need to ask you in order to complete the forms.