How to Ask for a Reference Letter

How to Help Your Professors Give You the Best Possible Letters of Recommendation

Getting really good letters of recommendation that make you stand out as an individual with unique attributes and special skills requires some advance planning and organization your part:

SAVE YOUR COURSEWORK.  This is a good idea for your protection in general—in case a professor’s computer crashes or a hurricane washes away his/her grade book, you  have what you need to reconstruct your grades; if you don’t get the grade you think you deserve, you have your actual papers and tests as evidence to support your claims.  If, semesters later, you wish to ask your professor to write you a letter of recommendation for a scholarship, award, graduate school, or job application, you can show your professor the work you actually did in his/her class, complete with his/her comments.  This will assist  your professor to recall you and your work with specificity (not just a general impression or your grade) and make detailed comments about your ideas,  skills, and  progress in the class that will contribute to a much more personal and unique description.  An ongoing portfolio of your work will also help you conceptualize your development as a writer.  If you have no work from your class, make notes for your professor that include the course number and name, semester, information about papers you wrote, and your grade for each course you took from him/her.

PREPARE A CURRICULUM VITAE. Begin this process early in your college career.  Keep records of all your  accomplishments, activities, volunteer efforts, etc.  Include activities that were not necessarily “outstanding” but demonstrate your interests, your curiosities, your opportunities for new learning, your commitment to community or causes.  You’ll be surprised how many things you have done that you will forget if you wait until the last minute to prepare a Vitae.  The Career Development Center (328-6050) or online guides can help you choose a format, and you can redesign and polish your Vitae over a period of time to achieve the best possible representation of who you are and what you can do.  Provide every potential reference with a current version of your Vitae.

SKETCH OUT IDEAS FOR THE LETTER YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE. Provide your reference with a brief list of the accomplishments and personal qualities that you would like to highlight specific to each particular application.  Not only will this give your professor useful ideas, it will help you to build and communicate with confidence a clear sense of your personal strengths, skills, and values.  

Try to give your reference at least 2 weeks to prepare your letter!!!

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