How to ask for a letter of recommendation
If you’re seeking a job or scholarship or hoping to move on in college to earn an advanced degree, chances are you’ll need letters of recommendation from some of your instructors to accompany your application.
But before you request a letter, there are some key things to bear in mind, says Elena Purcar, MSN, who teaches in the Master of Science in Nursing program at the University of Phoenix Southern California Campus. Here, Purcar offers five tips on the best ways to seek a written endorsement:
Choose someone who knows you and how you work.
Consider asking for recommendations from instructors who are familiar with your overall skills and achievements. Those who read the letters, Purcar notes, will want to learn about you from people who can present a larger picture of your reliability and talent, and not just their impressions from having you as a student in one course.
Petition instructors early.
“Some of us get a lot of requests for letters, particularly near the end of a [course],” Purcar points out. “It’s easier and more comfortable to write a letter when you’re not under pressure to get it done quickly.”
It’s perfectly acceptable, she adds, to email a friendly reminder to the author of your letter if you haven’t received it by the week before it’s due.
Make your request in person.
Don’t ask for a letter of recommendation in an email message, Purcar advises, or in a telephone voice message. And don’t, she emphasizes, request a letter from instructors or advisors when you happen to bump into them on campus or at a social function.
“I know we’re all about saving time in today’s world,” Purcar acknowledges, “but your instructor will know how much this letter means to you if you request a meeting and then ask them in person for the letter.”
Online students, of course, would need to follow a different protocol. Because they don’t have in-person relationships with their instructors, requesting recommendation letters via email is an acceptable option.
Provide all necessary materials.
Give your instructor a list of your academic accomplishments, including any you think he or she already may know about, as well as your most recent resumé. If there’s a letter of recommendation form to fill out, bring that to your meeting as well.
Always provide stamped envelopes, too. If you’re asking for more than one letter — perhaps because you’re applying to more than one college or for more than one job — have a prepared list of names and addresses of the schools or jobs to which you’re applying.
Don’t ask to see the letter.
Some instructors are more comfortable writing a candid assessment of a student if they don’t think the student will see their letter of recommendation. However, Purcar says, she doesn’t usually mail a recommendation directly, preferring to send it to the student who requested it. “It’s different for each instructor,” she notes. “Ask what they want, and then do that.”
Make sure you follow up with a thank-you note, Purcar advises. “I receive thank-you notes,” she says, “and I feel great that I was able to do one more thing for a … student. I like when I can make a difference.”