How to: Request References & Letters of Recommendation CaReeR DeveLopment offiCe

Career Development Office
Resource Guide
How to:
Request References & Letters
of Recommendation
2: Establish Relationships with your professors
3: Ask in Person
3: How to wrie an email for your request
4: Use your thank you etiquette!
Your relationships with professors and staff can make a huge impact on your future. Don’t take this step
lightly. Start preparing yourself for this step sooner than later.
The goal is to apply basic practices during your college experience so that asking your professors for a recommendation is as natural as possible. Think of it like this: if a close friend and a casual acquaintance both
needed your reference for a job, who would be easier for you to talk about?
So where do I start? Fortunately, the process doesn’t have to be intimidating. The first thing to keep in
mind is that the majority of professors understand that writing letters of recommendation is part of their job.
More often than not, they take pride in being able to help their students succeed in their academic careers
and understand that students might not know how to best approach them. Here are the ABC’s to getting the
letters you need.
Get to know your professors. Drop in to visit your professors during their office hours and invite
them to other activities you’re involved in. The more they know about you beyond class, the better
chance you’ll have of receiving a shining letter of reference or recommendation.
Before you decide which professor to approach, ask yourself:
Have I spoken to them outside of class?
Did I receive a B our higher in their course
Have I taken more than one course from this professor?
How much does this professor know about me beyond their class?
Ask 5-6 weeks before your deadline. Be respectful of their time.
Ask your professor in person first. An email is less personal and can decrease your chance for a
timely response. Let the professor know you’ll email your request after you’ve asked them in person. This will
also give you the opportunity to review your request and allow them time to think of questions.
In your verbal and/or email request, remind your professor of the situations in which they have worked
with you. Remember they work with a lot of students.
Send them the opportunity description to help them tailor their recommendation or reference. You may
want to include specific examples your professor could speak about. For example, if an internship is looking for someone who takes initiative, remind them of how actively you participate in class discussions.
Ask them what else they may need from you. For example, they may want to see examples of work
you’ve done in their class.
NEVER give your professor’s name out without asking them first. It never looks good to have a potential
employer call a professor who has no idea they are on your list of references.
Understand you’re asking the professor for a favor. They may want to say “No” for
a variety of reasons. It may be because of the short timeline you’ve given them, or they may not feel they have
the right kind of information to recommend you for the position. This is why developing a relationship with
your professors beforehand is crucial.
How to write an email for your request:
Address the letter properly. If you are on a first-name basis, it’s okay to begin with their first name. Otherwise, begin with “Dear Professor/Dr. Sagehen…”
Use the email Subject Line: “Recommendation [or “Reference”] for [your name]”
Start the first paragraph by stating what you are writing about: “I am writing to ask if you are willing to
write a letter of reference/recommendation for me.”
Next remind or give the professor these facts:
Your Name
Year in school
List the course(s) you took with this professor, when, and what grade you earned
Tell them what you are applying for and why you need the reference
Highlight when the reference letter is due. Give them at least 5 to 6 weeks notice so that you don’t
miss your deadlines.
In the next paragraph, identify your relationship with the professor and tell them why you have selected
them specifically. Let them know a little about you and why you’re interested in the scholarship, graduate
program, internship, or job for which you need the reference. This is where the relationship you’ve built
with the professor comes in. Convincing letters also give the reader a sense that the professor knows the
student well. More recent knowledge is therefore more credible.
Use strong reasons for why you want the position. This may sound like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised.
“I want this job because they offered me a big salary” or “This grad school will look good on my resume”
are NOT what you should relay to your professor.
Be professional and state the facts clearly: “I selected to apply to this performing arts center because I’m
excited about their Youth in the Arts department.”
Is there any special connection you may be aware of that this professor may have to the program or company you are applying with? Or to an alumni? If so, include that information in your request. “I remember
you stating that you once were a part of the staff at …I’m hopeful that I too might flourish from the opportunity to work for such a prestigious program.”
Be prepared to provide any referee with a package of information about you immediately. This could include
the following:
An unofficial copy of your academic history (transcripts) along with an explanation of any aberrations (low
grades, missing years, etc.);
An updated resumé or CV;
A draft of any statement of interest or research proposal that will be included in your application;
Any forms that the referee will be asked to fill out.
Fill in all of your personal information, along with as much of the professor’s as possible, in advance;
An additional sheet with your personal contact details;
A cover letter that reiterates who you are; the program or position that interests you and why; when the
letter is due; what the professor should do with it once it’s finished (will you pick it up? Should it be mailed
to you in a supplied, stamped, self-addressed envelope? Should it be mailed directly to the institution at
the address you have included on an address label?); and any additional instructions.
Ask your referees if they would also like:
A writing sample and/or copy of the professor’s comments on your work;
You to mail the letters and therefore cover the postage (don’t stamp your own envelopes because most
professors will want to put the letters in a departmental one);
A reminder note or phone call a week before the letter is due.
Use your Thank You etiquette!
After receiving your letter, be sure to send a thank-you email or drop off a card. Keep your professor in the
loop; let them know whether the application has been successful. If you anticipate asking for additional letters, send updates about your progress. It’s also a great idea to include, a kind, detailed e-mail that your referee
can include in his or her teaching dossier.