Almost everyone needs a letter of recommendation at some point…for scholarships, job applications and graduate school. In order to ask for a letter of recommendation, you need to start this process way before you actually need a letter. Get to know your professors! Engage in class. Take your work seriously. Be the student that professors want to help.
Assistant professor Patrick File calls this networking, and says most media jobs require lots of it. “Developing a relationship with a key faculty member or two who you like or admire is a huge factor in being successful generally in college, but it also makes it easier to ask for that letter when you need it.”
Professors like File get many requests to write letters. Here are our tips for making your next request a successful interaction:
1. Choose professors who know your work. You should have taken at least one class, if not two, from the professor, and you should have had some face-to-face conversations. Or, you could have worked with the professor closely on an out-of-class project or event. However, you know the professors, they should have had a chance to see you do good work.
Associate dean Donica Mensing says this is important when considering which professor to ask for a letter. “It’s a pleasure to write letters for students who show up, are engaged in learning, work hard and care about the quality of their work. If a student skated through a class, was absent a lot or produced average work, it’s very difficult to say much in a recommendation letter that would be helpful.”
Ask the professors if they are willing to write a letter for you. Some are not, for a variety of reasons. If they say yes, ask them what they will say about you. Alison Gaulden, lecturer and internship coordinator, recommends letting your professors know what skills you’d like them to highlight, especially if you have multiple requests to different mentors out at once. “Tell the mentor what you’d like to highlight and if you have others covering some character or skill trait so they can adjust to make sure they say something different.”
2. When you make your request, provide all the information necessary for the professor to write a strong letter. Include in your email or in your face-to-face request:
- The complete name of the person/job/school/scholarship you are applying to along with an address
- The deadline by which the letter is due and where to send it (i.e. an upload URL or email address)
- Your reason for applying – this can be a statement you wrote to accompany the application or a short explanation of what you hope to gain
- A current resume
- A reminder of what classes you took from the professor and when
3. Think ahead! Ideally, give professors three to four weeks to write a letter. Do not ask for letters on short notice unless it is a real emergency. Assistant professor Patrick File says this is one of the most common mistakes.
4. And last, but certainly not least, remember to thank your professors! Letters take time. Recognizing professors’ work is not only gracious but makes them more likely to say yes in the future. If you get into an internship or program thanks to professors’ letters, be sure to let them know!
It may seem intimidating to ask for a letter of recommendation, but quality letters are crucial to your success in college and the professional world. Whether you’re applying for an internship, a job or maybe even graduate school, your professors are here to help, and they want to help!