How to ask for a letter of reference

There is only one type of reference letter you need. A GREAT letter of reference. Anything else is a waste of time.

So, how do you get a great letter of reference from one of your professors?

STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD – As professors we interact with hundreds, sometimes thousands of students a year, and everyone wants a letter of reference. But only a select few will get great letters. You must get to know your instructors so they know you by name (not just recognize your face).

  1. Introduce yourself during the 1st class.
  2. Ask questions during lecture. This is a good way to distinguish yourself from others.
  3. Speak to your instructors after class.
  4. Send them an idea for a lecture (an interesting video or news story)
  5. Ask a question about a reading.
  6. Volunteer during class discussions.
  7. Always, always, always see your professors during their office hours!! –This is a must. This is your one opportunity for individualized attention, even if it’s just for 8 minutes, go to office hours.
  8. Ask for feedback on your assignments. Ask how you can improve your work, your writing, or your critical analysis skills, etc.
  9. Lean into your education and take every opportunity to stand out from the crowd by being positive and energetic.

ASK THE RIGHT PERSON – The right person is the one who knows you and your work the best. You need to establish a relationship BEFORE you ask for a letter of reference. The more courses you take with the same professor the better.

DO YOU DESERVE A GREAT LETTER OF REFERENCE? – Are you an exceptional student? Is your writing phenomenal? Are you active and present during lecture? Have I seen growth in your work? Are you dedicated to improving yourself? Do you have an unbelievable work ethic? Because if you’re just average, then you’ll just get an average letter of reference (if that).

ASK EARLY – Always give your instructors every opportunity to write you the best letter of reference and that means giving them lots of time. Ask early and if they say yes, then remind them of the due dates periodically.

HOW TO ASK – It’s a simple question. “Do you think you would be willing to write me a GREAT letter of reference?” Remember, you’re not looking for an average letter, you want a great one. If the instructor doesn’t think they can provide you with a great letter, then move on.


One thought on “How to ask for a letter of reference

  1. Melanie Pohl

    This post is REALLY handy… it lays out neatly and concisely everything you should be considering BEFORE asking for a letter of reference. All of the thought that goes into the WHO, WHEN, and WHY is the important first step and you made that clear.


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