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Adriana

January 3rd, 2023

How to ask professors for letters of recommendation, even if it’s been a while

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Adriana

January 3rd, 2023

How to ask professors for letters of recommendation, even if it’s been a while

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Asking for letters of recommendation can be a daunting task for any student. For undergraduate and postgraduate applicants alike, when the time comes to request letters of recommendation, self-doubt tends to creep into students’ minds. Does my professor like me enough to write me a letter of recommendation? Did I work hard enough in their class? What about that one assignment I handed in late, will they bring that up? Will they even have time to write me a thoughtful letter? Above all: do I deserve this? As time passes from the era when you interacted with your professors daily, new additional questions arise. Do they remember me well enough? Will they still care enough to write me a letter of recommendation when they have new students to worry about?

Step 1: Never fall out of touch!

For some readers, it may be a little too late to implement this tip, but for those of you only a year or two out, staying in touch with professors is extremely useful if you’re considering further education down the line. For me, this has taken shape in the form of an annual update email that I send to all my professors, advisors, mentors and supporters. While there’s always LinkedIn to help build your professional network, personalized email updates are a much more effective way of maintaining connections over time. Your academic mentors will be thrilled to hear about your journey, and will especially welcome an update when you aren’t immediately asking for anything. Often, they’ll think back to your yearly updates when you decide to reach out for a letter or any other type of support later down the line.

Step 2: Ask for their input first

If it’s too late for Step 1, this is where you should begin. If you’ve done a great job maintaining your academic connections Step 2 will be easier for you, but you still need to do it! Asking for letters of recommendation requires tact. It’s critical to remember that professors put their time and effort into helping you grow as a student. They want to know that their energy was not wasted on you and that you remember them kindly and continue to value their academic mentorship. Therefore, the best way to approach asking for a letter of recommendation is by explaining why you need one in the first place. This goes beyond saying “the program I’m applying to requires three to five letters from previous professors.” You should take this opportunity to review your journey over the past few years and explain your decision to go back to school in the first place. If possible, mention key moments during your interaction with that specific professor that led you to make this decision: perhaps a conversation you had during your undergraduate career sparked your interest, or a concept they taught you has since resurfaced in your career, and you want to explore it further through postgraduate study. Be sure to ask them for their opinion: based on what you’ve told them, do they support your decision? Does it feel like a logical next step to them too? Do they have any career advice for you?

Step 3: Go for it

In an ideal situation, you will be able to have a polite email exchange with your professor about graduate school—if not a quick Zoom chat or a meet-up for coffee—prior to asking for their letter of recommendation. However, if you’re short on time, Steps 2 and 3 might be just two halves of the same email. In either case, when it’s time to ask, be clear, transparent and fair. In addition to a summary of what you’ve done since sitting in their classroom, attach your most recent CV and offer to give clarifications or further details. Provide information about the program, including application deadlines and website links. Finally, save yourselves both some time, and give them the option to say no. If they don’t feel comfortable writing your letter of recommendation or are too busy, there is no use in waiting around while they figure out how to tell you no. Keep your head up and move on to the next!

About the author

Adriana

Hi, I’m Adriana! Originally from NY, I’m having a blast pursuing an MSc in Social Statistics (Research) at LSE while cycling around London and dancing salsa in the streets! My interests lie at the intersection of family planning and education, and I’m passionate about conducting social science research through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods.

Posted In: Applying: Masters

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