How to Ask a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation - Sample Email for 2020

how to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation

As you graduate from college, you’ll be entering the job market alongside other professionals who may have years of prior experience. These professionals are going to have reference sheets and recommendation letters that speak to their abilities as a professional. Asking a professor to be a reference and write you a professional recommendation letter can help in your job search.

Professors, particularly those who hold academic achievements or have lectured outside of the classroom, can be powerful brand names to put behind the start of your professional career. Here is how to ask a professor to be a reference.

Before you ask

Before you ask your professor to be a reference, gather the appropriate materials.

Your classwork: You should write a summary document outlining your classwork, grades, and achievements so that your professor can reference who you are. A professor who teaches hundreds of students is going to need something to look at when they start to write your letter.

Your resume: Your resume can be helpful to include in your request for a recommendation letter. It can show the professor what career path you want to take and what you may be trying to communicate to future employers through your prior work experience, skills, and more.

A deadline: Asking your professor to complete the recommendation letter by a certain date can ensure that you get the proper recommendation created for you in a timely manner. This can ensure that you don’t miss the opportunity to submit your job application as you wait for your professor. This can be especially helpful if you’re using this recommendation letter for a graduate study program or scholarship request.

Guidance: You may not have your cover letter or resume absolutely completed, yet. Provide your professor with some guidance on what you need. Is it the fact that they should speak to your leadership skills? Or do you need them to speak about your adaptability? Give them some framework to start writing your letter of recommendation. This can turn a lukewarm letter (that’s not very personalized) into a strong letter. As a student, it’s important to take time in considering what your ask is going to be for the professor so that you can make the most of your reference letter.

Who to ask

Depending on where you are, for example in graduate school (grad school), medical school, or simply graduating from university with a bachelor’s degree; you may want to contact a different faculty member. Try to choose a member of faculty that you have a long-standing relationship with and that has some significant achievements in their professional or personal career.

Avoid putting together a recommendation request to a counselor, guidance counselor, or faculty member that isn’t educating large groups of students. In high school, this may be a teacher and not a professor.

What types of letters can I ask for

There are many types of recommendation letters that students or professionals may ask faculty for. Even in high school situations or college-level situations, this recommendation request template provided will be sufficient. Here are the situations that you may find yourself needing a recommendation letter for:

In all of these circumstances, the request letter provided below can still be considered useful. But you’ll need to provide your professor with the right background on what you need. Whether it’s a job application or a graduate program you’re applying for, give them insights on how to write a good letter that’s effective.

If you’re applying for medical school, law school, graduate school, or other; be sure to include the application materials and application deadline instead of your classwork summary so that your professor has all the information required to write you an excellent letter of recommendation in the time required.

How to request the letter of recommendation

A written request might not be necessary for your professor. If you can, try to package all the materials that the professor may need in an email. And then send your email to the professor. If he or she needs to meet with you regarding your needs, let them propose a time. Alternatively, you can use open office hours to meet with the professor if you’d rather speak with them in person and get their approval in advance.

Provide the letter writer or recommender ample time to write your letter. If you want a great letter, give them at least one week’s time to complete your request. Be sure to receive a confirmation by the writer that they’re working on your letter of recommendation. If you didn’t receive that, be sure to follow-up and receive a confirmation.

Recommendation letter request email example

Email subject line: Recommendation letter request

Dear Professor Alternato —

I’m writing to you to request a recommendation letter. I’m applying for positions as an Account Executive and I’d like to be able to show that I have the ability to follow through on tough challenges and can be adaptable in stressful situations. I’ve attached my resume, cover letter, and a summary of work while attending your lectures and completing your coursework.

My potential employer is looking for a recommendation letter rather quickly. And the earliest deadline, in order to help me, would be next Tuesday by 5 pm eastern time.

If it is possible to write a recommendation letter for my employer by then, I would sincerely appreciate it.

Thank you so much,
Ian Markles

Remember, this letter is a confidential letter. And even when you share it with a potential employer, it will stay private. Show professionalism and gratitude whenever requesting a recommendation letter.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur,, SparkHire, and many more.


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