Educational Consulting

Asking for Recommendation Letters

If you’re a high school student thinking about college, or a college student thinking about graduate school, you’re probably going to need to ask current or former professors for letters of recommendation. As someone who has both requested and written many of these letters for former students and colleagues — and I still get letter requests — I have a little advice to offer when requesting letters.

  1. Allow at least a month. Ask for your letter of recommendation at least a month before it’s due. Give your recommenders time, especially if any of them are instructors in the middle of a semester or, worse, near the end of one.
  2. Let them know when the letter is due. A specific deadline always helps.
  3. Remind them of who you are in your initial request. If you’re not currently in a class with your recommender, provide your full name and remind your letter writer which classes you’ve taken with them during which semesters when you make your request.
  4. Once they agree, thank them. If your recommender agrees, thank them for it right up front.
  5. Provide them information. Provide them information that will help them write their letter, such as…
    1. That list of classes you’ve taken with them during which semesters and the grades you received in their classes.
    2. Your complete transcripts to date. You don’t need them to be official.
    3. Reminders of past work. If you wrote a great paper for them, or presented a really good project or thesis, remind them of it, maybe even sending a scanned copy of your graded work (so yes, keep that around).
    4. Information about your plans. Tell them what schools you’ll be applying to and what majors you’re interested in, and why.
    5. Your current résumé.
  6. Listen to their advice. I can’t think of anything worse than requesting a letter from someone then refusing to listen to their advice about the job market, majors, schools, etc. They may have information that you need, and regardless of the advice you’re given, your decision is always your own in the end.
  7. Don’t be afraid to send reminders, especially as it gets close to the due date. If your recommenders are instructors, they’ll be busy and may need the reminder. Be polite.
  8. Ask for letters from different people. Get letters from former instructors who have evaluated your academic performance, former or current employers or managers, and former collaborators on any work that you’ve done, especially if it’s creative.
  9. Ask in person if you can, and if you do, schedule an appointment or meet during scheduled office hours. Don’t just grab them in a hallway. However, sometimes email requests are necessary due to location. Recommenders with good memories of you won’t mind. If you do ask in person, be sure to follow up by email. Don’t forget, everyone’s busy.

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