How to Request a Faculty Reference Letter

Best Practices

Ask a professor who knows you well

  • You want to choose a professor that you’ve had for multiple classes who can attest to the overall caliber and quality of your work. This will help your recommendation letter speak to your abilities with numerous examples of your work and personality. It will also help if you have worked with them outside of the classroom.

Request a meeting if possible

  • Meeting with the professor is the best way to determine if they’ll write you a letter and what they require from you to do so. Some professors will need you to bring in your resume, the job description, or cover letter. Their processes will vary, and it’s best to set expectations early.
  • You can, of course, ask the professor in person if they’ll write you a recommendation letter and set up a meeting to discuss it further, but an email request will also work.
    • When sending an email request, include your name in the subject line.
    • The more detailed information you provide, the easier it will be for the professor to endorse you.
  • Expect to give your professor time to consider your request.

Provide documentation

  • When you attend the meeting, bring:
    • Resume
    • Cover letter
    • Job description/ grad school application
    • Summary document of assignments you received good grades in their class for as well as overall grade received
    • Description of your careers interests and aspirations
    • Work samples or portfolio (if applicable)

Give as much notice as you can

  • The more time you give a professor to write your letter, the more time and effort they can put into it. Additionally, if you give them a short deadline, they might not be able to complete it in time.

Be clear about what you want

  • Do you want a general letter of recommendation you can add to several job applications or a letter for a specific position?
  • Would you like to list them as a reference?

Say Thank You

  • As with most things, it’s nice to thank the professor for spending their time and energy writing you a letter of recommendation. You can either send them a handwritten note or email once they send you the letter/ confirmation of sending the letter.

Update your reference on your job search process

  • If a professor agrees to write you a letter, they want to see you succeed! Keep them updated with your search and interviews, and definitely let them know once you land a job!

Things to avoid

Do not ask at the end of the semester

  • Faculty are busy and may not have the time to write a well-thought-out recommendation for you and every other graduating student at the same time. It’s best to ask a few weeks before the semester’s end or at least three weeks before the deadline for the position you’re applying for.

Don’t ask a professor who doesn’t know you very well

  • Don’t assume a professor will write you a letter even though you’ve taken one of their classes or because they're head of the department. It’s best to have a list of faculty that you’ve had for multiple classes or ones you’ve really connected with. The more personal a letter is, the better. Specific reference letters are more likely to get noticed than those with generic praise.

Do not repeatedly ask them if they’ve finished the letter

  • If requested, you can follow up with the professor and remind them of the upcoming deadline. This should not be necessary in most cases, but make sure to discuss your expectations with the professor in your meeting.

Don’t feel discouraged if a professor says no

  • You should not feel discouraged if a professor says they can’t write you a recommendation letter. Professors get many requests, and they have obligations like the rest of us. If it’s a timing issue, consider asking the professor if they might be able to write you a recommendation letter in the future or if you can still list them as a reference.