Asking for a Reference Letter

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Whether you are thinking about applying to graduate school, a study abroad program, an internship, or even a scholarship, a glowing reference letter might be the thing you need to help your application stand out.

Asking for a reference letter can be intimidating if you do not know what you are doing, so before you go off and ask your favorite Professor to write you one a day before your deadline, allow me to help you through this process with this simple guide!

Finding the Right Professor

The biggest difference between an impactful reference letter and a passable one is the personal relationship attached to it. When choosing a Professor to be your reference, you need to consider just how well they know about you and your abilities.

So, ask yourself:

  • Have I had sufficient interactions with this Professor?

To form a relationship with a Professor, you must take it upon yourself to be proactive in your learning. Do not simply attend your lectures, be active, participate! Visit during office hours even to simply say hello and have a quick conversation. If your only interactions were in large lectures or courses that are driven by group activities, then they probably do not know you as much as you need them to.

  • Can this Professor distinguish my abilities with detail?

A good reference letter will have vivid details of interactions that show what an excellent student you are. Perhaps you lead a discussion during a lecture, went above and beyond on an assignment, took it upon yourself to research further into a course topic, or had an in-depth conversation during office hours. These are all examples of how you demonstrated brilliance to your Professor and distinction from your peers. You should also be prepared to provide these examples yourself if asked to!

  • What can this Professor add to my application?

Think about what you are applying to and how that relates to the Professor; Do they lecture about similar topics? Publish related research? Did you have a discussion regarding certain topics during office hours? Make sure to point out any specific subjects, skills, or interactions that you believe they can highlight.

Steps to Prepare

  • Give your Professor an advance notice

A minimum of 3 weeks should be enough time to prepare your letter. With that being said, bringing up the possibility of needing a reference letter even months in advance is not a bad idea.

  • Meet face-to-face (or camera-to-camera)

Talking in person can help you both communicate what needs to be done. It also provides an easy opportunity to discuss what you have been up to since taking their course, what projects ad extracurriculars you have been working on, what you would like to be highlighted in the letter, and what needs to be included in the application.

  • Prepare your own material 

Providing your Professor with a copy of your resume, personal application letter, and even project folders, such as GitHub, can provide them with knowledge and insight regarding your skills and application. This will result in a more personalized and targeted letter that will help you stand out.

In Summary

Receiving a good reference letter is no easy task and should be given the time and attention it deserves. Do not be afraid to develop that repour with your Professors early and to continue building that relationship throughout your years. After all, they are all kindhearted individuals that willing and happy to help their students succeed in their future endeavors!