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Dos And Don’ts: How To Ask For A Letter Of Recommendation


Are you applying to a new college or job and have been asked for a recommendation letter? If you never learned how to ask for a letter of recommendation, it can seem like a complicated and daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be!

In this article, you’ll learn how to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation step by step. You’ll also learn the common dos and don’ts, so you can confidently make your request and higher your chances for receiving a great recommendation letter that will bring you one step closer to your dream program or job.

What Is A Letter Of Recommendation?

A recommendation letter is a letter from a previous teacher, professor, or employer describing you and your skills to a prospective program or employer.

The purpose of the recommendation letter is to give potential employers or education programs a chance to understand your assets on a more personal level. Whereas resumes can all look the same from person to person, letters of recommendation make each individual stand out by highlighting your personality and what you uniquely bring to the table.

Is It Common To Ask For Letters Of Recommendation?

If you’re applying for a college, university, or a scholarship, chances are that you will be asked to provide a letter of recommendation. Most institutions may ask for up to three recommendation letters, and these are weighed heavily in the admission process for prestigious institutions.

Employers, however, are not as likely to ask for a recommendation letter. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be useful. Sending a recommendation letter, even if it isn’t required, can make you stand out among the numerous other applicants. Out of a pile of resumes that all blend together, a recommendation letter can make your resume more noticeable.

Should You Have These Letters Prepared Already?

If employers rarely ask for recommendation letters, is there a point in keeping one on hand? The answer is a resounding yes.

Having a ready recommendation letter is always a good idea. It can help you stand out in the application process, and it can’t hurt to have a letter on hand describing all your assets for those days when you’re feeling discouraged.

Recommendation letters are always more efficient when they are relevant and personal, but keeping a generic one on hand can always be useful in a jam.

Student applying for a program
Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

How To Ask For A Letter Of Recommendation: Step By Step

Step 1: What To Know Before Requesting

Before approaching anyone with your request, make sure you know what it is that you will be requesting. Make sure you know what you need, what the deadline and guidelines require, and what kind of skills need to be highlighted in the letter for this specific program or job.

Step 2: Who To Ask

Create a list of 5-10 individuals best suited to write your recommendation letter. In the case of a college application, choose a handful of teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, and/or principals whom you think have a close connection with you or your work.

Step 3: When To Ask For A Letter Of Recommendation

Once you know the deadline for the application (note that the due date for the letter of recommendation and the application may be different), you should ask for your letter of recommendation far enough in advance to give them plenty of time to get to it. Two months before the deadline is recommended.

Step 4: How To Ask

It’s always preferable to ask your teacher/employer for a recommendation letter in person. This shows them that you are personable and proactive. Of course, the request can also be done over email, and some people may even prefer it that way, but the same personal touches can be added to an email correspondence.

It is important when making a request for a recommendation letter that you approach your teacher with respect and the knowledge that you are asking them for a favor. Though most teachers expect to send out many letters of recommendation as part of their job, it is always helpful (not to mention polite) to show them that you appreciate the time that they are giving you.

Step 5: What To Do Afterwards

Once you’ve requested, and hopefully received your recommendation letters, don’t forget to send a personal thank-you to each individual who wrote a recommendation on your behalf.

Student meeting with her professor to discuss her letter of recommendation
Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

Dos And Don’ts

Do: Ask People Who Actually Know You

Don’t: Get A Generic Letter

By asking people who you actually have a relationship with, you’ll ensure that you get a more specific (and therefore more successful) letter. The whole point of a recommendation letter is to allow administration and prospective employers to get a better picture of who you are and what your skills are, so it’s important to ask someone who knows you and your assets.

Do: Use Authentic Flattery

Don’t: Go Straight To The Request

When making a request for a recommendation letter, make sure to begin with some context and friendly words. This is common decency when making a request, but will also improve your chances of receiving a good recommendation letter.

It can be helpful to remind them of your relationship (i.e., “I took your writing class last semester, and it was really meaningful in my development as a writer.”), or the reason why you chose them to write your recommendation letter (i.e., “I’ve always valued your opinion,” or “Since we worked together on such-and-such project, you’re familiar with my work and skills.”).

Do: Be Clear About What You Need

Don’t: Give A Vague Request

When requesting a recommendation letter, always be clear about exactly what you’re looking for. Your teacher or employer won’t be able to write you a good letter just based on the information that you need a recommendation letter for such and such program.

Provide specifics about the program or role that you are applying for, and the skills that you are hoping to highlight. You’ll be ensured a better letter, and your recommenders will appreciate the direction.

Do: Be Realistic About Expectations

Don’t: Expect That Everyone Will Agree

When asking for a recommendation letter, be aware that not everyone you ask will agree to write one for you. This is why it’s good to prepare a list of potential people. Some people will simply not have enough time, and it’s important not to get too disappointed if you receive a few gentle “no”s.

Do: Ask Far In Advance

Don’t: Ask Last Minute

Set aside plenty of time before the deadline so that you give your recommenders sufficient time to write and prepare a letter for you. Not only is this the responsible thing to do, but it will also ensure that your recommenders will have more time to get to it.

Do: Use Confident Language

Don’t: Use Language With A Lot Of “Like”s Or “Um”s

When meeting your recommender to make your request, or sending an email, make sure to use professional and confident language.

3 Extra Tips For Success

1. Make Connections Beforehand

If you’re still in school or at a current employment, start making connections now for the time when you’ll need recommendations. It’s helpful to take advantage of professors’ office hours in order to ask questions or receive help and advice. Most teachers are happy to help, so take advantage of the time that they’re offering to students.

2. Provide Clear Instructions And Materials

Whether you make your request over email or in person, it’s crucial that you provide all the necessary material and information, so that your professor can write an accurate and detailed recommendation letter. This may include transcripts, resumes and descriptions of previous work, application brochures for your potential program or scholarship, in addition to deadline dates and address of submission.

3. Thank You’s And Updates

A helpful touch may include being in contact even after the request is accepted. Sending a note of thanks, as well as updates when you receive an answer for your application, is a nice way to keep your recommender in the loop after they’ve graciously written a letter for you.

Student composing a letter of request
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Sample Letter

Below is a sample email request for a letter of recommendation. Each new line is another point that is important to include in your request.

Dear Professor Smith,

My name is Sarah Collins, and I took your Introduction to Business Administration course this past semester.

I’m applying for the graduate program in business administration at ____ University and hoped you’d write a letter of recommendation for me.

Your course gave me the opportunity to see business administration in a new light, and it’s thanks to your class that I decided to continue my education in the field.

I’ve attached a copy of my resume, as well as the information and skills that I wish to highlight in my recommendation letter. I’d be very happy to meet up with you and discuss my work, if you would like to speak in person.

The letter of recommendation is due on January 1, 2021. It can be sent to _____.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I really appreciate the time and effort that you put into guiding me throughout the course.


Sarah Collins

In Conclusion

If it’s your first time asking for a letter of recommendation, you may feel unsure of how to ask and what to provide. Hopefully, this article outlines all the basic do’s and don’ts for how to ask for a letter of recommendation. Once you know who to ask, how to make the request, and what to provide, you’ll be on your way to receiving a great recommendation letter and higher chances of success in your application.