How to Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email
If you are applying for a job, an internship, or a graduate program, it is inevitable that you will need to ask one of your professors for a letter of recommendation.
While it a necessary thing, it can still be a stressful and daunting experience. It can almost be as anxiety-inducing as asking your crush to be your prom date.
Luckily, unlike your crush, your professors are accustomed to being asked for letters of recommendation, and they will be happy to help push you closer to your academic or career goals, so you don’t have a lot to worry about.
When it comes to requesting for a letter of recommendation from your professor, the best approach is to ask the professor in person.
If you are unable to ask in person, however, you can still do it via email.
Email is also a good option if you know that the particular professor is comfortable with digital communication.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT PERSON TO ASK
Before we get into how to request a recommendation letter via email, the first thing you need to do is to make sure you are asking the right person.
In order to determine the best person to ask, you first need to understand the purpose of a recommendation letter.
But why is it really required?
The other documents that form part of your application are a factual summary of your academic qualifications, your skills, and your other accomplishments.
While they give a good picture of who you are and what you can do, someone cannot really tell what you are like as a person, or what it is like working with you.
This is where your recommendation letter comes in.
The recommendation letter adds personality to your resume and cover letter.
It discusses things that cannot go into your resume, such as your personality, your ambition, your character traits, how well you connect with other people and so on.
Since the recommendation letter talks about your personality and character, this means that you should ask for a recommendation from a professor who knows you well and can point out specific incidences in your life to highlight various aspects of your personality and character.
Many recommendation letters are usually filled with generic praise that could apply to anyone, and therefore, the more specific your letter of recommendation is, the more likely it is to sound genuine, and the more likely you are to get noticed and appreciated.
Of course, if a professor does not know you well, they cannot write a recommendation that is specific to your personality and characteristics.
Therefore, if you want a strong letter of recommendation, you should choose a professor who has a personal relationship with you and has a good opinion of you.
Before requesting the professor, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this professor know me by name?
- Is the professor familiar with my work?
- Have I performed well in this professor’s class?
- Have I worked with this professor outside of class?
- Have I always acted ethically and professionally in the professor’s class?
If you can answer positively to all the above questions, then you have the right person to request for a recommendation letter.
Aside from ensuring that the professor knows you personally and has a favorable opinion of you, you should also go for professors who have a reputation for writing the strongest recommendation letters.
WHEN TO ASK FOR THE LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION
Aside from asking the right person, you also need to make sure that you send the request at the right time.
Your professor are most likely very busy with teaching, grading, and even handling other similar requests from other students.
In addition, writing a great letter of recommendation takes some time and thought.
Therefore, you need to give your professor ample time to work on your letter.
At the very least, you should send the request about a month before the application deadline, and if possible, send it even earlier.
Aside from giving the professor enough time to write your letter, this also ensures that you have enough time to ask another professor in case the first one declines your request.
In addition to sending your request in time, you should also make sure to include the due date for the recommendation letter.
This way, the professor will be aware how much time they have to work on your letter.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN REQUESTING A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION VIA EMAIL
Keep It Short
Like I just mentioned above, professors are busy people with a lot on their table.
They have to prepare lectures and tests, deal with other departmental issues, handle requests from students, and so on.
Therefore, unless you want to get ignored, you should keep your email to your professor short and sweet. You should be focused on one key thing – getting them to agree your letter of recommendation.
Therefore, don’t include any unnecessary information and details in the email.
Just get straight to the point. If they agree to write the letter of recommendation and need more information from you, they will ask for it.
They might even request for an in-person meeting to review your resume, therefore you can save all the extra details for later.
Remind Them Who You Are
One of the biggest mistakes many students make is to send an email to the professor with the assumption that the professor knows who you are.
The professor interacts with many students every single day, and unless you communicate with the professor via email on a regular basis, then you should remind the professor who you are.
This avoids confusion and ensures that the professor has a good idea who they are writing the recommendation for.
Make Your Request Assertive And Specific
You don’t want to simply ask the professor if they can write you a letter of recommendation for you. Of course, the professor can write a letter of recommendation!
Making such a weak request will only result in an ordinary recommendation letter that might not help your application in any way. Instead, you want to be specific about the kind of recommendation letter you want.
Therefore, instead of saying “can you write me a letter of recommendation?” say something like, “would you be willing to write me a strong letter of recommendation that will help me get considered for this position?”
Of course, being specific and assertive does not mean that you should be cocky or demanding. That will only get your request ignored.
Don’t Assume Your Request Will Be Accepted
When writing your email to the professor, never make the mistake of assuming that the professor will automatically agree to your request.
The professor is under no obligation to write the letter of recommendation for you.
By agreeing to write it, they are just doing you a favor. Therefore, when writing the email to your professor, it should be in the form of a request that gives the professor room to deny the request.
The professor will be more likely to grant your request when you ask graciously, compared to when they feel like you are demanding for the letter of recommendation.
In case the professor denies your request, I know it might hurt a little. However, don’t read so much into it. Having a professor deny your request does not mean that you are a bad student.
The professor might have denied your request because they either feel they don’t know well enough to write a great letter, or perhaps they might not have enough knowledge about the position you are applying for to write an effective letter.
Therefore, if a professor denies your request, don’t hold it against them. Simply ask another professor.
WRITING THE EMAIL
With that out of the way, let’s now go into writing the actual email.
Below are the steps to follow when writing an email to request a letter of recommendation from your professor.
Use A Professional Subject Line
Your professor may have a lot of emails in his or her inbox, therefore you want them to know from the onset what your email is about. You should make this clear in the subject line.
If your subject line does not make it clear what they should expect from the email, there is a chance that your email might get ignored.
Below is an example of a great subject line:
“Request For Letter Of Recommendation”
Use A Proper Salutation
Start your email with a proper salutation, just the way you would on a formal letter. Unless you are on a first name basis with the professor, address them using their professional title.
For instance, let’s assume you are writing the request to Dr. Robert Langdon, who was your molecular biology professor. In this case, you should use the salutation “Dear Dr. Langdon.”
If you are on a first name basis with the professor, however, it is okay to address them by their first name in the email, in which case the salutation would be,
Introduce Yourself And Refresh The Professor’s Mind
After the salutation, you should start by introducing yourself to the professor and writing a few sentences to help the professor remember who you are. Keep this section brief.
One or two sentences will do. A great way to do this is to state your name and mention the classes which of the professor’s classes you have taken.
If you have had a one-on-one interaction with the professor, you can also mention it briefly. Below is a great example of how to introduce yourself:
“My name is Sienna Brooks. I took your class on molecular biology in my senior year, and you helped me with my project on genome sequencing.”
State The Purpose Of Your Email
After introducing yourself, you want to quickly move to the purpose of your email. If you keep talking about irrelevant things, the professor might stop reading your email.
Make it clear that you are requesting for a letter of recommendation and let them know why you need the letter. Below is an example of how to explain the purpose of the email:
“Since we will be breaking for summer at the end of the semester, I’m applying for an internship position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and I was hoping you would be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation for me.”
Explain Why You Chose Them
With the purpose of your email out of the way, use the next paragraph to explain why you chose them specifically to write the letter of recommendation for you.
There are several different ways to approach this section.
You could talk about your relationship with this professor, what you have learnt from them, and how they have impacted your life.
Alternatively, you could tell a little more about yourself, why you are interested in the position for which you are applying, and why you think this particular professor’s recommendation will go a long way in helping you secure the spot.
If the professor has a connection with the organization you are applying to, you can mention it here.
Remember, keep your reasons professional.
However, you are allowed to use some little flattery here. As the saying goes, a little flattery can get you everywhere.
Below is an example of how to explain why you chose this particular professor:
“Your classes have helped me learn about all the awesome possibilities that can be achieved through molecular biology.
After your classes, I became particularly interested in genome sequencing, and I feel that an internship at CDC would really help me become more versed with this interesting topic.
Considering that you helped me on my genome sequencing project, I feel that your recommendation would go a long way in helping me secure this position.”
Alternatively, you could say:
“Honestly, I had not considered a career in pathogen genome sequencing, but after taking your classes and reading some of your works on the subject, I have become greatly interested in the subject, and I feel that interning at CDC will provide me with the basis I need to pursue a career in this field.
Considering your extensive contribution to this field, and seeing as you have partnered with CDC in many of your research projects, I feel that a recommendation from you would be really helpful.”
When explaining why you chose the professor, always use a genuine reason.
The professor might easily spot a made up story, especially if they know you well, and this might hurt your chances of getting a good recommendation from them.
Mention What You Hope They Will Say
If you don’t mention what you want your professor to include in your recommendation, then you have no way of ensuring that they actually talk about what you want.
Therefore, you should briefly mention a little of what you expect your professor to talk about.
If there is some information about you that the professor does not know, yet you want it mentioned in the letter of recommendation, you can also slip it in at this point.
However, you have to do this tactfully. Don’t explicitly tell the professor what you want them to say. Instead, you should mention it as a subtle suggestion.
Below is an example of how you could do this.
“Having worked with you on the genome sequencing project, I believe you have a good idea of how hard I worked on that project and some of the challenges I encountered during the project.
I was hoping you could talk about my commitment to delivering high quality work and my ability to deal with challenges, since these are some of the qualities the employer is looking for.”
Attach Other Important Documents
In case the professor accepts your request, they will need some more information about you. You don’t want them to start emailing you back and forth asking for this information or the other.
To make things as easy as possible for the professor, attach other relevant documents in the email, such as your resume, a list of the classes you’ve taken, activities you might have taken part in, any awards you might have won, and so on.
Once you attach them, mention it within your email with a statement like:
“You will find attached a copy of my resume and a list of some of the activities I have participated in and the awards I have won. In case you need more information or want to meet in person to discuss something, I will be happy to meet and share the information.”
Let Them Know How To Submit The Recommendation
In most cases, the professor is required to upload or submit the letter of recommendation by themselves.
If this is the case, you should provide your professor with the instructions on how to submit the letter of recommendation as well as the due date so they don’t submit it too late.
Below is an example of how to write this part.
“The letter of recommendation is supposed to be submitted before the 1st of April, 2019. You can upload it through this link.”
The final paragraph of your email should thank the professor for their consideration, whether they write the letter or not.
Let them know that you appreciate their taking the time to read your email, as well as for the effort that will go into writing the letter.
In addition, express your appreciation for everything you have gained from having them as your professor.
Below is an example of how to do this:
“Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this request and for your consideration. I also want to thank you for everything I have learnt under your instruction. I know the things I have learnt from you will be very helpful in my future career, and I cannot be grateful enough.”
Remember that this is a professional email, therefore you should close it professionally.
Don’t leave the email hanging. You could close with something like “Best regards, Sienna Brooks.”
That’s it. With those few steps, you will have crafted a very professional email requesting for a letter of recommendation from your professor.
Once you are done with the final step, your email should look as follows:
Subject: Request For Letter Of Recommendation
Dear Dr. Langdon,
My name is Sienna Brooks. I took your class on molecular biology in my senior year, and you helped me with my project on genome sequencing. Since we will be breaking for summer at the end of the semester, I’m applying for an internship position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and I was hoping you would be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation for me.
Honestly, I had not considered a career in pathogen genome sequencing, but after taking your classes and reading some of your works on the subject, I have become greatly interested in the subject, and I feel that interning at CDC will provide me with the basis I need to pursue a career in this field. Considering your extensive contribution to this field, and seeing as you have partnered with CDC in many of your research projects, I feel that a recommendation from you would be really helpful.
Having worked with you on the genome sequencing project, I believe you have a good idea of how hard I worked on that project and some of the challenges I encountered during the project. I was hoping you could talk about my commitment to delivering high quality work and my ability to deal with challenges, since these are some of the qualities the employer is looking for.
You will find attached a copy of my resume and a list of some of the activities I have participated in and the awards I have won. In case you need more information or want to meet in person to discuss something, I will be happy to meet and share the information.
The letter of recommendation is supposed to be submitted before the 1st of April, 2019. You can upload it through this link.
Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this request and for your consideration. I also want to thank you for everything I have learnt under your instruction. I know the things I have learnt from you will be very helpful in my future career, and I cannot be grateful enough.
The letter of recommendation is a crucial document when you are applying for a job, an internship or a graduate program.
If you find it awkward asking for the letter of recommendation in person, or if your professor is comfortable with digital communication, you can request for the recommendation letter via email.
When it comes to sending the request via email, remember to keep it short, refresh your professor’s mind, make your request assertive and specific, and let go of the assumption that the professor will automatically accept your request.
With that in mind, and if you follow the instructions shared above, you will have no problem requesting for letters of recommendation via email.
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