How To Ask A Professor for A Letter Of Recommendation (With Examples)

By Caitlin Mazur - May. 16, 2021

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When applying for a new job, an internship, or a graduate school program, you may be asked to submit a letter of recommendation. Even if a letter of recommendation isn’t requested, it can make a nice addition to your application.

When you’re a student, it might be difficult to find an appropriate source to write a letter of recommendation for you. Oftentimes, professors are more than happy to write recommendation letters for their students.

But first, you have to ask.

Asking your professor for a letter of recommendation can be difficult, especially if you don’t know them well. If you ask far enough in advance, your former teacher will almost always be happy to help you.

In order to be courteous and professional, try asking your professor in person, with a written request in hand. You can also send them an email requesting a recommendation letter.

Below, we outline the best ways to ask your professor to write a recommendation letter.

Which Professor You Should Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

It’s important to carefully consider which professor writes your letter of recommendation.

Use someone who is familiar with your academic work and performance. Choosing a teacher you have had personal interactions with is best. If possible, make sure your recommender can articulate your skills and provide personal anecdotes that aren’t reflected elsewhere, such as your ability to work well with a team, or your dedication to your chosen field of study.

We recommend choosing a professor who’s intimately familiar with your work ethic over a teacher whose class you aced, but never met with. Professors from smaller class settings like seminars, as opposed to lectures, almost always make a stronger choice.

If you regularly attend a professor’s office hours and they got to know you well, that’s a good choice for your letter of recommendation (even if you didn’t ace their class).

When giving the professor initial notice, it’s important to ensure you ask them if writing a review for you is something they feel they can do adequately. It’s also best practice to give your professor an opportunity to decline your request.

Remember, your teachers may have other priorities to attend to or simply not feel comfortable writing a letter. It’s better to get an answer in the beginning so you can move on with choosing a recommender.

You and your letter will be better off with a recommendation that is positive and specific, rather than one that is lukewarm and vague.

Give the Professor Plenty of Notice to Write a Letter of Recommendation

Before your potential employer or program asks you for a letter of recommendation, reach out to your professor to ask if it’s something they would be comfortable with. You should begin seeking out potential recommenders the moment you start searching for and applying to opportunities.

The email itself can be short and to the point, while maintaining professionalism, to let them know you’ve found a potential new job or graduate school program you are hoping to attend.

As it gets closer to the end of the semester, professors may be inundated with grading papers and exams as well as other recommendation letter requests from other students.

It’s also common for students to ask for a letter of recommendation after graduation. Most students after graduation are either on the hunt for a new job or looking for their graduate school program and want to line some letters of recommendation up in preparation.

This strategy allows you to avoid needing to repeat the request every time you’re applying.

You can also preemptively begin this process during your coursework. If you are in your final semester, consider developing a dialogue with a professor you enjoy. Make sure they know your name, that you contribute during lessons, and ask valuable questions.

These are good foundational tasks that will help your credibility when you finally do ask for your recommendation letter.

How to Ask a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation

Even if you have a strong relationship with your professor, it’s important to maintain your professionalism when asking for a recommendation letter. Your teacher likely has a wide variety of students and may be spread thin.

Although your professor may be able to write you a great letter off the top of their head, the best way to ensure your letter includes all of the details you need is to provide them with the appropriate information.

Here’s everything you need to know about requesting a recommendation letter from a professor:

  • Prepare a summary document. A summary document lists the courses you’ve taken over your time at school and references any projects or accomplishments that you are proud of completing. If you have copies of these, be sure to include them in your document.

    Additionally, consider including grades you received on these accomplishments and overall grades for your class.

  • Provide your application materials. Next, provide your up-to-date resume to give your professor an adequate summary of your achievements outside of school as well as any relevant work experience.

    If you choose, including a cover letter can be helpful to provide your professor with the highlights of your classes or projects, where you believe you have showcased some of the skills that may be relevant for what you are applying for.

  • Request a meeting. If you’re still living on campus or can easily make it into the professor’s office hours, try to schedule a face-to-face meeting. You can cover a lot more ground in a 15-minute conversation than an email chain that could go on for a couple of weeks.

    Be prepared to talk about your job or school search more thoroughly. In today’s world, you can also request a video chat for convenience.

  • Make a clear request. Be direct about what you want — a letter of recommendation extolling your skills in…whatever skills you want highlighted that the professor can speak to.

    If you’d like to also list the professor as a reference, be sure to confirm that they’re comfortable with this and to expect a call or email from a potential employer/program coordinator.

  • Give pre-addressed envelope with postage. If you really want to make your professor’s life easy (something they’ll appreciate), provide them with pre-paid postage and an addressed envelope. That way, all they have to do is write the letter, put it in the envelope, and mail it.

    Of course, this only applies if you know exactly when and where the letters are going.

  • Follow up. Don’t be afraid to follow up with your professor if you haven’t heard back from them in a timely manner. It’s possible they may have missed your note or forgotten about it due to other priorities.

    Equally as important, be sure to follow up with them afterward and send them a thank-you note. It’s important to show your appreciation for their time and effort.

What to Include in Your Email Request for a Recommendation Letter From a Professor

If you can’t ask your professor in person, then email works just fine. Students should consider sending an initial email to ask whether or not your professor can write a letter for you. If your professor agrees, suggest meeting during a time that works for your teacher, like during their office hours, to discuss what the professor is considering writing.

Finally, make sure you include all of the details your professor needs, as discussed above. Don’t forget to include things like the job description, your summary document, as well as instructions, contact information, any relevant postal or email addresses, and a due date for when it must be completed.

It’s a good idea to try to not spring this on top of your professor out of the blue. Give them a chance to think about your request and set up a time to meet and discuss further.

If You Don’t Know Your Professor Well

Oftentimes you may need a recommendation letter but are fearful you don’t know your professor well enough. In these types of cases, it’s important to guide them along the way and provide them with more information than they might actually need.

Be sure you include any and all feedback you received from this professor during your time with them, as well as a transcript of your grades, if possible.

Be sure to try and dig up a personal anecdote from your class time together. It doesn’t have to be a specific interaction you had together, but rather a tidbit you may have found helpful during their lessons. For example,

Example

I am hoping to get a letter of recommendation from you because I found your class to be extremely valuable for me and my studies. I felt that our class discussion about religious organizations showcased my ability to debate as well as my passion for theology.

Something like this will help them write about your engagement in their class.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Asking a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation

To maximize your chances of receiving a glowing recommendation letter from a professor, you’ll want to avoid a few common mistakes:

  • Assuming the professor owes you one. Professors are under no obligation to write recommendation letters for anyone. That being said, most teachers enjoy helping their former pupils achieve their goals, as they had a hand in your development.

    Never assume that a professor is guaranteed to say yes to your request, and be graceful and polite if you’re declined. If you’d like to put the professor down as a reference, confirm that they’re comfortable and available to speak about your professional or academic capabilities.

  • Simply asking. It’s not enough to just ask for a recommendation letter. You need to do everything you can to make the process simple and straightforward for the professor.

    That means collecting and presenting relevant information about yourself, like your resume, transcript, a brief summary of your career goals, and other details that are pertinent for the program or job you’re applying for.

  • Being impatient. Once your professor has agreed to write you a recommendation letter and is apprised of the deadline, be patient with them. Don’t keep pestering them with emails asking if/when they’ve sent the letter yet.

    Trust that they’re professionals who will follow up with you at the appropriate time.

Examples Emails Asking for a Letter of Recommendation From A Professor

  1. Dear Professor Anderson,

    I am reaching out to you today to request a letter of recommendation. I have greatly benefited from the courses I have taken with you over the past three years. I am hoping that you feel as though you know me well enough to consider my request.

    As you can see from the attached cover letter, I am applying for marketing positions in the software industry which require submitting a letter of recommendation. I hope to showcase both my technical prowess and passion for marketing to these potential employers

    I have included a summary sheet to consolidate my key accomplishments as well as a refresher on my end-of-year project. Additionally, I have attached my resume and transcript which will bring you up to date on my relevant work experience and extracurricular activities.

    Please let me know as soon as possible if you are comfortable writing a character reference for my time in your classroom. I am more than happy to answer any questions or concerns, or to schedule some time to meet in person to discuss this further.

    Thank you so much for the valuable time you’ve spent with me in your classroom and for your consideration of this request.

    Sincerely,

    Martha Wall

  2. Dear Mrs. Hamilton,

    My name is Martha Wall and I am a student in your business marketing class. I was also in your Intro to Marketing class my junior year. I am currently applying for a variety of internships and they require a letter of recommendation. I was hoping you might write one for me.

    Your classes were eye-opening for me as a future marketing professional. I took great interest in social media marketing which is the field I hope to enter. I am so grateful for having such an informed and passionate instructor to offer me guidance. I have attached a copy of my resume as well as a summary of my accomplishments, grades, and extracurricular activities. I’d also be happy to discuss this further in person.

    The letter of recommendation is due on January 9th. You can send it to my email marthawall@school.edu. Thank you for taking the time to consider my request. I hope to hear from you soon!

    Sincerely,

    Martha Wall

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Author

Caitlin Mazur

Caitlin Mazur is a freelance writer at Zippia. Caitlin is passionate about helping Zippia’s readers land the jobs of their dreams by offering content that discusses job-seeking advice based on experience and extensive research. Caitlin holds a degree in English from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA.

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