How to ask for a letter of recommendation from your college professors

Getting a good recommendation letter from a teacher or professor can make or break your college or job application…so, y’know, there’s no real pressure securing one.

Don’t worry, it’s easier than asking someone to prom – you won’t find any elaborate recommendation letter proposals on YouTube. (If anyone decides to make one after reading this post, please do tag us on social media so we can sing your praises.)

Most teachers and professors will expect a number of students to ask for a recommendation letter each year, so they’re used to it.

Here’s what you need to do in order to take the plunge:

Who should you ask for a letter of recommendation?

First, carefully read the application. Some schools and jobs will request a letter of recommendation come from someone who taught you a specific subject or course.

Assuming you have some flexibility, you should ask a professor who knows you well, and one you’re sure will write enthusiastically about your many great qualities. A good recommendation letter is one that can cite concrete examples that demonstrate your abilities in the classroom or speak to who you are as an individual.

Don’t fall in love with the grade you received in a given class. A professor who gave you an “A” but doesn’t remember your name may not be able to write as thorough a recommendation as a professor who gave you a “B” but with whom you regularly chatted during office hours.

When should you ask for a letter of recommendation?

Don’t wait until the last minute! In most cases, teachers and professors will expect to be asked 6 weeks before the recommendation is due. This gives them the opportunity to follow up with you about any questions they may have, and budget their time appropriately.

Remember, you’re probably not the only student for whom they need to write a recommendation.

How should you ask?

Every teacher and professor has their own preferences, but it’s a good idea to make your initial request in person when possible. If you can’t make it to office hours, try to carve out a few minutes before or after a class to speak with them directly.

When your teacher or professor agrees to write your recommendation letter, let them know you’ll follow up via email outlining all the necessary information.

If you send your initial request via email, it’s important to suggest you and the professor sit down during office hours to discuss your plans. Not only is it a polite courtesy to someone doing you a favor, but it’s also a good way of showing the professor you’re serious about the opportunity, and gives you both a chance to review any requirements for the recommendation letter.

What should you include in your request?

To make the process easier for your teacher or professor, make sure you give them all the necessary information:

  • The school or entity to which you are applying
  • The position you are applying for
  • The deadline
  • To whom they are to address the letter
  • Why you are asking them specifically
  • Anything the application asks for in a letter of recommendation

Additionally, let your teacher or professor know that you will provide them with an addressed and stamped envelope to make their lives easier.

For a more in-depth look into what to write your professor, please see this helpful resource produced by Northeastern University.

What to do after your teacher writes you a letter of recommendation

Obviously, the first thing you should do is thank your teacher or professor! More to the point, however, keep them informed of the status of your application. If you get accepted into the school or receive a job offer, stop by their office to share the good news, and thank them again for their help!