How to Ask a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation (2019)

How to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation

Asking a teacher, lecturer or professor for a letter of recommendation can be nerve-wracking. It’s always awkward to ask for a favor like this, especially if you don’t know them well! But, more and more jobs these days insist on receiving this letter.

As a professor, I get requests for letters of recommendation all the time. I like to do it, because after all, I got into this career because I want to help to see my students succeed.

To ask for the letter or recommendation you should keep a few things in mind: Which professor to choose? Should I get them a thank you gift? And how should I write the email? This article will help you navigate the etiquette behind requesting a letter of recommendation from a professor.

As a professor, I want to see my students succeed. So, I’m usually willing to help.

There are definitely a few tricks to asking for a letter of recommendation, though.

Here, I’m going to give you a complete guide on how to go about asking for a letter of recommendation from a professor. I’ve split it into two parts. Part 1 will give you the instructions on etiquette and how, when and why to ask. Part 2 will provide sample templates. If you’re just here for the templates, jump to Part 2 now.

Here’s the contents to navigate your way around:

Part 1: Tips for Asking for the Perfect Letter

  1. Why ask your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation?
  2. When to ask for the Letter?
  3. Which Professor should I Choose?
  4. What if it’s a Professor you don’t know well?
  5. Should I ask in Person or via Email?
  6. What Should I Include in the Email? Make it Easy.
  7. What if they Ask for Money?
  8. Don’t forget to send a Thank You.

Part 2: Templates and Samples

  1. Email Template for a Specific Job
  2. General Re-Usable Email Template
  3. Sample Completed Email

Part 1: Tips for Asking for that Letter of Recommendation

In this first part, I’ll show you what you need to do to ask for a letter of recommendation. You need to know who to ask and how to go about it in order to get the best letter of recommendation you can!

1. Why ask your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation?

Letters of recommendation can make or break your job application process after you leave college. A good letter of recommendation stands out. It sets you apart from the crowd because it’s social proof that you’re a good, hard worker.

Most employers these days want to see a letter of recommendation. I usually recommend to my students that they get one letter of recommendation from a previous employer and one from a recent professor.

The letter of recommendation from your professor serves a unique purpose. It’s got a different purpose than your letter from a previous employer. This letter will attest to your personal attributes as an apprentice and your willingness to learn.

Your letter will:

  • Show that you’re willing to learn;
  • Show that you have persistence and desire to succeed;
  • Show that you’re an intelligent critical thinker;
  • Show that you can cultivate positive relationships with your mentors

2. When to ask for a Letter of Recommendation from your Professor

If you can lay some groundwork early on it’ll really help you out.

So here’s when to ask for a letter of recommendation:

a) Good: As Soon as you Need It

As soon as your potential employer asks for a letter of recommendation, send a quick email to your professor and let them know.

It only needs to be a small, polite email that lets them know that you have found a job that you’re interested in and would love their support.

The more advance notice you give them, the better. So send them that email – Now!

I’ve provided a few email templates at the end of this post that you can copy and alter to make sure you cover all the important bits.

b) Better: At Graduation

Occasionally, I have students email me once they’ve graduated to let me know they really felt they got along with me well, and wanted to see if I could write a letter of recommendation.

These students are about to go on the job hunt and want to line up some letters of recommendation in advance. Clever strategy!

This is a really good strategy because you can get them to write a general letter that would work for any future employer. This prevents you from having to repeat the request for every employer.

c) Best: During the Course

It’s best to lay some ground work.

If you have some time and are still in your final semester at university, I have some important recommendations for you:

  • Try to make sure your professor knows your name;
  • Aim to ensure your professor is impressed by your attitude.

Firstly, to ensure your lecturer or professor knows your name, make sure you make good contributions during class. Next, I recommend emailing your professor with relevant questions about once every two weeks.

I have a few students each semester who email me friendly, relevant questions about once every two weeks and I always respond. I also end up knowing them the best and respecting their commitment to their studies.

See related post: How to impress your Professor.

Then, straight after you hand in your final assessment piece, ask your professor in person or email them that day. Try to secure a general letter of recommendation that’ll work for any future employer.

This is the best strategy because the professor has you fresh in their mind. They’ve just taught you, so they remember everything about you!

3. Which Professor to Choose?

The TL;DR answer? Ask the one who knows you best and will be able to attest to your personality.

The long answer? Select a professor based on these criteria:

a) Choose a Professor who Seems willing to Help

I share an office with two other professors.

One of them stands at arm’s length to the students. He teaches, he does his research and he goes home.

When students send him emails, he sends pretty curt (short) answers and usually tells them to go figure it out for themselves.

The other is a professor who has dedicated her life to her students. She has coffee with them, books one-to-one tutorials with them, and celebrates their successes with them.

The second one is the one who will craft a letter of recommendation that’s meaningful. She’ll think about your strengths and highlight them for the employer.

The second one will write a form letter outlining what grade you got in his course. It won’t have a personal touch, and the letter won’t stand out amongst the crowd.

Choose the professor who seems to care about their students. Their letter will be more personal and more powerful.

b) Choose a Professor you’ve Spoken to the Most

You’ll need to get a letter of recommendation from a lecturer or professor who actually knows a little bit about you. I’ve had students ask for letters of recommendation and I couldn’t have picked them from a crowd.

If your professor knows a little bit about you, they’ll be able to make the letter more personal. They can actually talk about your traits, whether you make a big effort in class and how punctual you are.

If the professor doesn’t know you too well, you’ll be stuck with a bland letter of recommendation that simply mentions your grade and that’s about all!

c) Choose a Professor with a Good Name in the Industry

The last thing to think about is getting a professor whose name might carry some weight.

Keep in mind whether the prospective employer might know their name or what contributions they have made to your field. Has the professor written an influential book, been on TV, or been an active member of the community?

At the very least, consider their rank: a tenured full professor will outrank an associate professor, who will outrank an assistant professor or lecturer.

In England, Australia and New Zealand, we usually use the term ‘lecturer’ rather than ‘professor’. The ranks go: lecturer, senior lecturer, associate professor and professor. A ‘professor’ is much more prestigious in England than in North America, because it’s significantly harder to achieve this title.

4. What if it’s a Professor you Don’t Know Well?

If you’ve chosen to email a professor you don’t know well and ask them for a letter of recommendation, you should try to do the most to help them write their letter.

Here are some recommendations I have for you:

  1. Choose one of the email templates provided at the end of this article;
  2. Attach to that email template their feedback to your assessment pieces. They’ll want to see that feedback to let them refresh their memory;
  3. Attach a transcript of your grades across the university, if possible;
  4. When you email your professor, try to include the email as a ‘Reply’ to a previous email chain you’ve had with them. This will enable them to scroll down and see what previous communication you’ve had together. You’ll help to jog their memory a little.
  5. Provide a personal anecdote from the classes, such as: “I wanted to get your letter of recommendation because I found your classes the most beneficial for me. I felt I contributed well to those classes and the class where we played the quiz about [something] / watched the videos about [something] was a lot of fun.” This will help them write about how you were engaged with the content in the classes.

5. Should I send an Email or Ask in Person?

Personally, I like a student to do both if possible.

I like a student to send an email that:

  1. Asks whether I can write a letter of recommendation, then
  2. Suggests that we meet up if I want to talk about what to write, then
  3. Provides as many details or suggestions as possible.

I don’t like getting approached after class about it without prior warning. I prefer being prepared for this sort of discussion, and a preliminary email saying “Is this OK? Can we meet up?” works well.

Personally, I’m also okay with a student just sending the email without arranging to meet up. Sometimes I’m frankly too busy to have meetings with my students. So just email me and ask for the letter of recommendation – It’ll be fine.

But, that in-person follow-up is a nice personal touch.

6. What to Put in the Email: Make it Easy

I mean really easy.

Your lecturer or professor is a very busy teacher. They’re doing you a pretty big favor. So, make it as easy as possible.

Give the Teacher as Many details as Possible:

  1. Job Description: Share with them the title and description of the job you’re applying for;
  2. Assignment Feedback: Send them the feedback they gave on your assignments to jog their memory about your strengths and weaknesses;
  3. Memorable Interactions: Jog their memory about any memorable interactions you’ve had together;
  4. Transcript: Send them your transcript;
  5. Letter Template: If there’s a template for the letter of recommendation provided by the potential employer, send it to the teacher;
  6. Stamped Envelope: If they need to post it, provide a stamped envelope. Don’t waste their time making them go to town to buy stamps and envelopes just for you;
  7. Postal Address: Don’t forget that if they have to post the letter, give them the postal address!
  8. Instructions: Let them know that all those things are attached to make their job easy.

7. What if they ask for Money?

If your professor asks for money in order to write the letter of recommendation, I strongly advise you to say ‘No.’

It’s an abuse of power. Even if a professor says “I need to cover expenses”, say No.

You can offer to provide paper and a stamped envelope if need be, but don’t exchange money.

A professor who asks for money off a student is corrupt. It’s an abuse of power. They’re in the business for the wrong thing. It’s unethical. End of story.

I take a hard line on this. I don’t even think a professor should ask a student to buy their textbook. It’s coercive. It’s wrong.

Seek out another professor.

8. Don’t forget to Send a Thank You Email.

Lastly, it’s important that you show your appreciation. You should always follow up to let the teacher know that you appreciate their efforts.

Here’s a few things you can do:

  1. Send a thank you email after you know they have sent the letter of recommendation off.
  2. Even better, send them a personal hand written letter and a box of chocolates or gift card. I’ve gotten this a few times and I always thought it was the sweetest thing.
  3. When you find out whether you got the job, send them another email to let them know how it went.

Part 2: Email Templates and Sample Emails

Here’s two email templates and a sample email to give you a bit of an idea of what to write.

Feel free to copy them, use them, edit them and share them with your friends.

9. Email Template 1: Recommendation Request for a Specific Job

Dear [Name],

It’s [Your Name]. I was in your class, [Name of Class] last semester. I’ve just graduated and am on the hunt for some work in the industry.

I wanted to get in touch and ask you for some support.

I’ve recently applied for a job for a position as a [Insert Job Title]. They seem interested and have asked me to send them a letter of recommendation from one of my professors.

I was wondering whether you would be able to write a letter of recommendation for me?

I’ve asked the prospective employer what they want from a letter of recommendation and they’ve mentioned they want to see:

  • That I have a genuine interest in the career area;
  • That there is proof that I am a willing learner;
  • That I have good relationships with teachers or mentors.

Would it be possible for you to put together a recommendation with a few words about me and my potential aptitude for a job in the industry?

I’ve attached the job description so you can see what I’m applying for and the feedback you wrote on my essay last semester. I thought that might come in handy for writing a letter of recommendation.

I’m more than happy to come in to meet with you if you want to discuss it any more!

I would also like to come in to drop off a stamped and addressed envelope for you too to make that step easier for you.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

10. Email Template 2: Request for General Re-Usable Recommendation

Dear [Name],

It’s [Your Name] here. I have just finished your course, [Course Name].

I’ve just started applying for jobs and I have had three now who have asked for letters of recommendation from my teachers.

I was wondering whether you would be able to support me in my job search by providing a general letter of recommendation that I can submit to each job I apply for?

Each of the employers seem to be wanting a general letter of recommendation that attests to some of my qualities such as:

  • My interest in and commitment to my career choice; and
  • My strengths as a student

I have attached the feedback you wrote on my essay last semester. I thought that might come in handy for writing a letter of recommendation.

I would be more than happy to come in for a meeting at a time convenient to you to talk about it and I’ll come in to drop off a stamped envelope as well.

Thank you for your time.

Regards,

[Your Name]

11. Sample Completed Email

Hi Chris,

It’s Sam Briggs here from the PSY4008: Preparing for Professional Practice course that we just completed together.

I’ve just gotten the news that a potential employer wants me to come in for an interview for a job. This would be my first job related to my Psychology degree so I am really excited about it!

They have asked me to bring a letter of recommendation from one of my professors to the interview.

I was wondering if you would be able to provide one for me?

I was hoping you would write the letter for me because I feel your class really brought out the best in me as a student. I really enjoyed the hands-on activities and the ability to contribute a lot to your classes.

Would it be possible for me to drop in during your open office hours next Tuesday to put together a letter of recommendation together? I’ll bring in your feedback from my last assessment which might help with ideas for what to write.

Thank you for your support!

Regards,
Sam

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