How to Ask a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation | Career Sidekick

How to Ask a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation

How to Ask a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation or Reference

If you’re wondering how to ask for a recommendation letter from a professor, then this article is for you.

We’re going to look at steps and examples of how to ask a professor to be a reference or write you a recommendation for grad school or getting a job.

We’ll also look at what to do BEFORE requesting anything to boost chances of hearing “yes”. And we’ll look at whether you should make your request via email or in-person.

Let’s get started…

Should You Ask via Email or In-Person?

If possible, it’s best to visit your professor’s office hours and ask in-person for a recommendation letter or reference. This will make the best possible impression and show them that you’re making every effort possible on your end.

However, if you’re unable to visit them in-person (for example, if you’ve already gone home for the year), or you’re dealing with a tight due date and need a rec letter faster, then email is fine.

We’ll look at samples of how to ask for this coming up soon.

The bottom line is: Your professor will appreciate you coming to make this request in-person if you can. If you can’t do this, then asking a professor via email or a phone call is the next best option.

Also, asking through email will be more well-received if your professor already knows you to some degree (through visiting their office hours in the past, being engaged in class, etc.) So if you’ve done those things, then asking via email can be fine!

Samples of How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for Grad School

When asking for a recommendation letter for grad school, approach your professor and let them know that grad school is your next goal. Explain that you’re in the process of applying (including mentioning specific schools or the type of programs) and then ask if they’d be willing to write a recommendation letter to help you reach this next step in your career.

The more you tell them about the types of graduate programs you’re applying to, the better they’ll be able to write your letters of recommendation! So let your professor know some key details whenever possible.

Let’s dive into some example scripts now for how to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation.

Note that while these templates are written in email format, you can follow the same script in a face-to-face conversation.

Sample #1 to Request Letter of Recommendation:

Hello Professor <Last Name>,

Thank you for your time this <semester/quarter/year> teaching <subject or class name>. The class was interesting!

I’m applying to grad school to pursue <desired graduate degree/field of study> as a next step, and I wanted to ask if you’d be willing to write me a letter of recommendation.

Is this something you’d be comfortable doing?

I’m going to begin applying on <due date> so I’m hoping to have a letter ready before then if possible.

Best regards,
<Your Name>

It’s a good idea to let your professor know the exact type of graduate program you’re applying for. That way, they’ll be able to write a more detailed recommendation later that’s better-targeted for your exact goals.

Sample #2 to Request Letter of Recommendation:

Hello Professor <Last Name>,

I hope you’re doing well.

I’m applying to grad schools right now to pursue <desired graduate degree>, and I wanted to ask if you’d be willing to write me a letter of recommendation to help me reach this goal.

I enjoyed your class this <semester/quarter/year> so I thought it made sense to ask you.

I’m going to begin applying on <due date> so I’m hoping to have a letter ready before then if possible.

Is this something you’d be comfortable doing?

Thanks for your time!

Sincerely,
<Your Name>

Note: Mentioning the due date (as seen in both samples above) is a courtesy to let the professor know the general timeline you’re working with, and to save them from having to ask, “When do you need this by?”

It should NOT be used to pressure them! Don’t email a professor and give them a due date that’s very close while sounding demanding. They don’t owe you this rec letter; you’re requesting a favor!

So if you do need to email a professor last-minute to get this letter of recommendation, then you should say something like, “I realize it may not be possible for you in such a short time-frame, but I wanted to ask just in case. Thanks for understanding!”

Examples of How to Ask a Professor to be a Reference for a Job

If you’re looking for jobs, you’re likely going to need to request that your professor be available to speak to potential employers and serve as a live reference, which is a bit more of a time commitment than just requesting a letter.

Of course, you can also ask for recommendation letters for job searching. But many employers want to speak to references directly to ask them about your personality, work ethic, and more.

So to start your request, let your professor know what your goal is (to obtain a job) and then be clear about what you’re requesting: Permission to list them as a job reference.

As with the previous section, the following examples are structured in an email format, but you can use the same script to ask a professor to be a reference in-person.

Reference Request Example #1:

Hello Professor <Last Name>,

Thank you for your time this <semester/quarter/year> teaching <subject or class name>. The class was interesting!

As a next step, I’m pursuing full-time employment in the field of <desired field of work>, and I wanted to ask if you’d be willing to be a reference in my job search.

Are you comfortable speaking to a couple of employers on my behalf as my job search progresses? I’d only provide your information if I were sure an employer is interested in moving forward with me. 

Best regards,
<Your Name>

Reference Request Example #2:

Hello Professor <Last Name>,

I hope you’re doing well.

I wanted to ask if you’d be willing to be a reference in my job search. I’m seeking full-time employment as a next step, and I enjoyed your class so I thought it made sense to ask you.

I think employers in this field are looking for evidence of my ability to do <areas that you’d like the professor to talk about>, so anything you can speak to on that topic would be a huge help.

Are you willing to speak to a couple of employers on my behalf, and/or would you be willing to write a recommendation letter?

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you!

Best regards,
<Your Name>

When sending these requests, try to choose a professor who knows you relatively well. Also, only ask them to speak about traits that they’ve seen – like your work ethic, reliability, communication skills, ability to work on a team, etc.

Don’t request that they talk about your sales skills if they haven’t taught you anything about sales or seen you do anything with sales, for example. (Even if you want a sales job).

Be Specific With Your Request

If you know you need one certain thing from the professor (like a written recommendation letter), just request that specifically. Be as exact as possible.

I made these templates above more general so you can customize and adjust them based on what you need, but on average, when cold-messaging, you’re going to have better results if you request one specific thing.

So think about what it is you need most from your professor, and ask for that.

As an example, if you know you need a professor to be able to speak to employers on the phone, and recommendation letters won’t be enough for you, then just ask for that instead of asking your professor for a letter, too.

Before Asking: Build a Relationship With Your Professor if Possible

You’re going to have more success getting teachers and professors to write a letter of recommendation if they know your name and recognize your face! So during the academic year, try to show up to class, ask a question or two, stop by their office hours one time to ask a couple of questions.

This can go a long way to make them feel appreciated and to show them that you’re engaged in the class and taking advantage of what they’re spending their time teaching you.

If a professor/teacher knows you well, they’ll write a much more convincing letter of recommendation.

Don’t worry if it’s the end of the school year and you haven’t done this, though, you can still use the strategies and templates above, and many professors will still help you out!

Make Your Request Early and Leave Plenty of Time

You’re going to have better results with all of the above if you ask as soon as possible and leave them with plenty of time to write the letter. Think weeks, not days. 

Plus, they’ll probably be getting fewer requests if you do it early instead of requesting this last-minute.

So get to know your professors now, ask a question or two in class or their office hours, and then ask early on if they’d be willing to provide a reference or write a recommendation for you!

Conclusion

You now know how to ask your professor for a recommendation letter for grad school and how to ask them to be a reference for job searching.

No matter what path you’re taking after your undergrad degree, having a few references or letters from professors will help you succeed.

As a final step, make sure to thank your professors and keep them updated on the results if they do help you with this.

If you get accepted into graduate school or land a job, tell them! They’ll be excited to know that one of their students achieved their next goal.

Additional reading:

 

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