How to ask your professor for a letter of recommendation

letters of recommendation medical school admissions strategy
By Irving

Asking a professor for a letter of recommendation can be a crucial step in your academic or professional journey. Whether you are applying for graduate school, scholarships, or awards, a well-crafted letter of recommendation can make a significant impact on your application. However, approaching your professor and making the request can feel intimidating.

Here are some valuable tips on how to ask your professor for a letter of recommendation effectively and professionally.

1. Start Early

It is essential to start the process early to give your professor ample time to write a thoughtful letter. Ideally, reach out at least a month before the deadline to allow them enough time to gather their thoughts and write the letter without feeling rushed.

2. Send All the Requirements in a Single Email

Make it convenient for your professor by providing all the necessary information in a single email. Include an updated curriculum vitae (CV) or resume, a reminder of how you are connected (e.g., the course you took with them), and highlight specific accomplishments or points you would like them to emphasize in the letter. This will help them write a more personalized and impactful recommendation.

3. Arrange a Short Meeting

If possible, consider scheduling a brief meeting with your professor to discuss the criteria of the letter. This allows you to clarify any doubts, provide additional context, and ensure that you are both on the same page regarding the purpose and content of the recommendation.

4. Send the Criteria of the Letter

To facilitate the process, provide your professor with the criteria for the letter. Clarify whether it needs to be on a specific letterhead, the required format, and what the program, scholarship, or award committee is looking for in candidates. Include any relevant links to the application, so your professor has all the necessary information at hand.

5. Draft a Sample Letter as a Template

Recognize that professors are often busy individuals. To make the process more efficient, you can draft a sample letter that your professor can use as a template. However, it is important to avoid sending the exact same draft to all of your recommenders. Having letters with a similar structure can diminish their impact. Instead, tailor each letter to the specific recommender, highlighting unique experiences and qualities you shared with them.

6. Send Friendly Reminders

People can get busy and forget deadlines, so it is good practice to send friendly reminders to your recommenders. One month and one week before the submission deadline, kindly check in with them to ensure they have enough time to complete the letter. Remember to express your gratitude for their willingness to support your application.

7. Have a Plan B

While it is rare, there may be situations where a professor is unable to write or submit the letter. It is always wise to have a backup plan. Consider identifying another individual who can write a letter on your behalf. Utilizing platforms like Interfolio can help you store letters securely, allowing you to access them if needed.

8. Be Professional and Grateful

When making your initial request and throughout the process, maintain a professional and polite tone. Express your gratitude for their time and effort, both when initially asking for the letter and after it has been submitted. A thank-you note or email goes a long way in expressing your appreciation for their support.

Asking your professor for a letter of recommendation can be a nerve-wracking experience. However, by following these guidelines, you can navigate the process with confidence and professionalism. Remember to approach your professor early, provide all the necessary information, and maintain open communication. With careful planning and gratitude, you can secure strong letters of recommendation that enhance your applications and highlight your potential.

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