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How to Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation

How to Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation

Asking for a letter of recommendation requires you to follow certain basic tips and etiquette so that you can get the best possible letter. Here, we discuss these tips and provide you with a sample request letter that you can use for your endeavors.
Puja Lalwani
Any application to graduate school requires a letter of recommendation that will back up all that you have claimed to be in your application. While your transcripts and other evidences of achievement speak for you, a letter of recommendation from a professor adds a personal touch to the entire application and lets the college know more about you as a person, how determined you are to achieve your goals, and what you can do to realize those goals. Now if you want such a wonderful letter, you need to have a good rapport with your professor, so that you can ask her/him to write one for you in the first place. Here, we tell you how to ask your professor for a letter of recommendation so that you can get the perfect one to seal your admission to a school of your choice.

Tips for Requesting a Recommendation Letter

If you know that you are going to be applying to graduate school and that you will need recommendation letters in the future, it is a good idea to start working on building a good rapport with a professor of the subject you wish to pursue further. While performing well in her/his class is imperative, it is also important that the professor knows who you are. Ask questions, give inputs, and make yourself visible. This does not mean you become a professor's pet. Be genuine. If you need the letter sooner and haven't been able to build that kind of rapport, don't worry. You can still use the following tips to get that letter of recommendation.

Know Whom to Ask
So, you weren't able to build a strong rapport with any of your professors. However, there may still be a professor who is likely to know you better than others. Which professor should you ask for a letter of recommendation then? The professor should ideally be someone whose subject you would like to pursue in graduate school, should know your name, should be slightly familiar with your work, should have spoken to you outside class, and should be someone in whose class you scored a good grade (B or higher). Such a professor would be the ideal person to write your letter of recommendation. The letter is likely to be more convincing and personal.

Ask in Advance
If you want a good recommendation letter, ask your professor about one and a half to two months in advance. Your professor has other things to do and may not have the time to write the letter as soon as you ask for it. If you ask later, expect to get a rushed letter that does not have the best recommendation that could have been. Make sure you are polite in asking for the letter. Don't demand it; request it. Ask if she/he would be willing to write the letter for you. You may do this via e-mail or in person. If you are doing it via e-mail, a sample request letter has been provided below for you to refer to. Once she/he agrees, move on to the next two steps.

Provide Resources for the Letter
Irrespective of the fact that your professor may know you well, she/he may not remember all the good about you and write it down in a letter. A professor needs documents to support her/his reference and make it legitimate. So let her/him know that you will be providing supporting documents to make the letter-writing process easier. Provide copies of:
  • Your grade transcripts
  • Details and evidence of any awards you have received
  • Term papers on which you have scored B or higher grade
  • Your resume
  • A copy of the statement of purpose you have sent the university
  • A few details about your future plans
  • Details of the university and whom the letter should be addressed to
  • The application deadline so that the letter is ready in advance
  • Your personal contact details, should any more information be required
If the school has provided a specific recommendation form, make sure you fill in as many details as you can before you send it across to your professor.

Thank your Professor and Follow Up
Show your professor how grateful you are for the fact that she/he is taking out the time to write you a recommendation letter. Once you have provided all the documents and necessary details to write the letter, ensure that you follow up. As mentioned earlier, professors are busy people and are likely to forget easily. Drop in a gentle reminder say a week after you have asked her/him to write the letter. Again, don't push her/him against the wall. The letter is your requirement so give her/him all the time to write you a good letter of recommendation.

Sample Request for Letter of Recommendation via E-mail

If you need to send an e-mail to ask for a letter of recommendation, there is a specific way to do so. You must follow some basic etiquette since it is a request letter. The sample provided here will give you an idea of how such a letter is written. The subject is what you will include in the subject line while sending the e-mail. The text in the brackets can be modified to suit your requirements.

Sample Request for Letter of Recommendation

Sub: Request for Letter of Recommendation

Dear [name of Professor - Use Ms./Mr. or Dr. if applicable]

I am writing to ask if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me. I am [your name] in the [third year] of college, pursuing a major in [English Literature]. I have attended your classes in English Literature through my second and third year in college, and have always scored a good grade on all my term papers in the subject. I intend to apply to graduate school to pursue a course in [Theater Direction] from [name of university]. My application for admission is due on [due date of application].

I have always found myself interested in theater and have been an active member in the drama club of our college. I have participated in six plays during my time in college, out of which I have directed two. Some of the more memorable plays I have participated in include [names of plays]. I have discovered that [theater direction] is where my true passion lies; a passion that was further fueled in your class where we discussed the past, present and future of theater. Your own passion for the field has only intensified my desire to do my bit for it.

The reason I would like you in particular to write my recommendation letter is simply because we have a common interest in theater, and I am confident that you can relate to my burning desire to enter and do something positive for this field. Further, you can be a true judge of my performance in the plays I have participated in, and are aware of the quality of my work as showcased in class. If convenient, I would also like to meet with you and discuss ways in which I can improve my overall performance in the field.

Should you be willing to write the letter, I will send you some resources that will give you a better idea of my abilities and will help you write an appropriate recommendation letter for me. I will also send you an addressed and stamped envelope for the letter.

Thank your for your time and consideration. I would deeply appreciate it if you would write this letter of recommendation for me. It could be the letter that changes my future.


Your Name
Year in College

Once again, follow up with your professor to find out if she/he has agreed to write the letter for you, and thereafter to ensure that it is written on time. Just be genuine with your request and your resources; things will easily fall into place.