How To Get A Killer Recommendation Letter

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By Debbie Lechtman Fachler > Sophomore > Syracuse University > Magazine Journalism, Photo by Connecticut State Department of Education

Sooner or later, you will probably have to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation: for an internship, for a class, for a study abroad program, for graduate school. To some, this can feel a little intimidating, but there is no need to fret. College Magazine has got the art of asking for – and getting! – a killer letter of recommendation down pat. 

Decide whom to ask. It goes without saying that asking that biology professor who would always call you out for sleeping in class for a letter of recommendation is probably not the best idea.
“If you’re nervous that the letter-writer won’t write you a good letter of recommendation, then ask someone else!” says David Richeson, a mathematics professor at Dickinson College.
If the professor you asked refuses to write you a letter of recommendation, do not get angry or upset. Politely thank him or her for their time and move on to someone else. According to Tamara Dowling, founder of, it is against some school or company policies for their employers to write letters of recommendation.
Ask early. Believe it or not, professors have a life outside the classroom or lecture hall. Often, this is life is a busy one. The earlier you ask for your letter, the better. That way, your professor will not feel rushed and will therefore be less inclined to decline your request. It also goes without saying that this will ensure that you get your letter in time.
Approach the professor in person. Never ask your professor right before or right after class, when everyone is rushing in and out of the classroom or lecture hall. Go to your professor’s office hours or set up an appointment to explain your situation and ask for a letter. If this is not an option, at least send your professor a formal, polite e-mail explaining why you cannot request a letter in person.
“Do not ask the professor in a quickly jotted, informal e-mail in all lower case!” Richeson says.
Tell your professor a little more about you. Most likely, your professor only has a sense of who you are through your class participation and grades. It is never a bad idea to tell your professor about what you do and what interests you. This will help him or her write an even more personal and genuine letter.
Cornell University’s Career Services recommends bringing a resume with you to your meeting with your professor. That way, your professor will have a better understanding of who you are.  
Remind your professor. Do not forget – professors are busy. Some can even be a little absentminded. If two or three weeks have gone by without you receiving (or them sending) the letter, then politely remind them of your situation. Chances are, he or she will write the letter almost immediately after that.
Send a thank-you note – not an e-mail. In addition to thanking your professor in person (which is common courtesy), make sure to send him or her a handwritten thank-you note as well. Not only is this more personal than an email, but it shows your professor that you are genuinely thankful. And after that, he or she will probably want to write you a letter of recommendation in the future.

College Magazine Staff

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