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8 Tips for Asking a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation

January 21, 2021 · 5 minute read

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8 Tips for Asking a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation

While a college education can help prepare students for life, taking advantage of the professional network college offers can help launch your career. Whether trying to land a summer internship, get that first job out of college, or apply to graduate school, a letter of recommendation from a professor can be helpful.

Although requesting this is common practice, and it can feel nerve wracking to broach the subject, there are some helpful tips to receive a glowing letter of recommendation.

1. Asking a Professor Who Knows You and Your Work

There are several factors to consider when deciding who you’ll ask for a letter of recommendation. Taking stock of which professors actually know your interests and goals, not just your name, is something to consider right away.

A strong letter of recommendation can involve praising a student’s personal character and highlighting their goals and ambitions. For this reason, choosing a professor you’ve personally interacted with, whether through class discussions or during office hours, could be beneficial.

If you’ve taken several courses with a professor, they may be able to showcase how you’ve grown throughout your time in college.

Since a professor will also be attesting to your academic merit, it can be helpful to start by identifying who has seen samples of your strongest work throughout college. For example, a personal essay or in-person presentation that earned a strong grade might indicate that a professor valued your work.

2. Choosing a Professor Who Specializes in Your Field

Although a letter of recommendation is foremost about your own skills and attributes, also of benefit can be a professor’s own credentials within an industry or academic field you are targeting.

A letter of recommendation from an esteemed and notable professor could help you stand out in a competitive group of applicants.

Many professors have built up extensive networks from academic conferences and working with faculty at other universities and in the private sector.

Though they may not have contacts at the company, organization, or university you’re applying to, their advice and connections in a specific sector or academic discipline could prove valuable as you begin your job search. As academic professionals, they may have insight on the return on education for different graduate degrees and careers.

Often, jobs or graduate school applications require submitting more than one letter of recommendation. Choosing a combination of references who can highlight your strengths and character and carry respect in your desired field could further enhance your candidacy.

3. Asking in Person if Possible

Given the importance of the request, asking in person can show that you’re serious about your future and respectful of a professor’s time.

For students currently enrolled in school, finding time to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation may be as simple as making an appointment during their office hours.

If you’re studying abroad or have already graduated, reaching out via email may be your only feasible option for starting the conversation. To further demonstrate your commitment, you might ask to arrange a phone or video call.

4. Making a Personalized and Specific Request

The average college has a student to faculty ratio of 14-to-1, so it’s not uncommon for professors to have several students ask for letters of recommendation each year. Still, that doesn’t mean every request is guaranteed a response or agreement to receive a recommendation.

Out of consideration for a professor’s busy schedule, making a request that’s tailored to them and clearly outlines what you need may increase your chances of success.

To personalize the request, consider reminding them which of their courses you took, a key project or assignment, and how they influenced your academic and career goals. Next, providing a concise explanation of the position or program you’re applying for and what it means to you is an opportunity to convey your own professionalism and passion.

Since writing a letter of recommendation is a favor, sending a courteous request that allows a professor to opt out could help avoid a lukewarm reference. A well-crafted request makes it easy for the professor to quickly decide if they have enough knowledge about you and the position to write a letter of recommendation.

5. Providing Information to Write the Recommendation

Even if you have a strong relationship with a professor, the quality of the recommendation can benefit from supplemental information. For instance, providing a resume, college transcripts, personal statement, and a sample of work can help jog their memory and give them a blueprint of your experience and accomplishments to draw from.

It can be helpful to include a job description or, for a graduate program, admissions information. This could help a professor connect your academic knowledge and experience to the job or program’s desired qualifications and skills.

This is also the time to provide information and guidance for submitting a letter of recommendation. Some typical considerations to include are where to send the letter, any relevant deadlines, and to whom it should be addressed.

6. Giving Plenty of Notice

Asking your professor several weeks, if not months, before the recommendation is due can convey respect and appreciation for their time and effort and help ensure submission deadlines are met. Also, it can give you time to regroup and consider other options if a professor or two declines.

7. Keeping Them Updated Though the Process

Professors typically have busy schedules, so probably won’t keep thinking about your job search or grad school application after the letter of recommendation has been written and sent. Letting them know when you have interviews and other updates can help them be prepared should they receive a call from an employer or admissions office.

8. Saying Thanks and Staying in Touch

Besides creating good karma, thanking a professor is another opportunity to foster a good relationship with them. They might become a mentor to you, especially if you’re pursuing a job or education in the same field.

You might apply to another job or a graduate program in the not-so-distant future and want to ask for another recommendation from the same professor. The average American changes jobs nearly every four years according to a US Bureau of Labor Statistics survey.

Instead of starting from scratch each time you apply for a new job, you may want to periodically update academic and professional references along your career path and as your goals change.

Not only can this make for an easier request and stronger recommendation next time around, it may lead to more professional opportunities and meaningful relationships.

The Takeaway

Keeping up with former professors can be a pleasant way to reminisce about college years. Another not-so-pleasant reminder can be student loans.

Like many students, you may have taken out loans to pay for college and/or graduate school. Refinancing your student loans may be an option to help with repayment.

Keep in mind, however, refinancing federal student loans with a private loan means the borrower forfeits all federal loan benefits, such as income-driven repayment plans, loan forgiveness programs, access to deferment or forbearance, and other forms of federal student loan debt relief.

On the flip side, refinancing federal student loans might offer lower interest rates or a shorter term.

With SoFi, student loan refinancing could reduce the overall cost of your student loans and get you out of debt sooner when refinancing to a shorter term. Applying online is free and can be done in a matter of minutes.

Get pre-qualified for student loan refinancing at SoFi.


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