i was terrified of doing this in undergrad, and now that i’m asked to write them fairly often, i am fondly exasperated when my students don’t know how to ask for them. obviously there’s no single way, but here’s the way i usually do it.
THE FIRST EMAIL
- should be short & should mainly be asking whether they’re willing to write you the letter
- should provide only the basics - what the professor absolutely needs to know.
- the position you’re applying for
- when the letter would be due
- optional: if you’re afraid they won’t remember you, a quick line identifying yourself & your relation to them
- i like to provide an “out,” in case they don’t want to or are unable to write the letter
Dear Professor X,
I’m applying for a job as an English tutor at the University Student Resource Center, and was wondering if you’d be willing to write me a letter of recommendation for the position. [optional identification: I really enjoyed taking English 300 with you in Winter 2016, and I’m hoping to develop and pass on those skills to other students through this job.] The letter would be due by September 1st - I know you’re very busy, so I completely understand if you’re not able to write one.
THE SECOND EMAIL
- they said yes!! amazing.
- this one can provide a little more information – a link to the job posting, if there is one, or you can write a quick summary of the position, plus a sentence or two about why you’re excited/interested in the job.
- also tell them where to send the letter!!
- directly to the recruiter for the job
- to you, to add to your application packet
- upload to an online LoR service or to an application website
- 99% of the time folks are fine with receiving electronic copies, but if they need to mail a hard copy, let them know up front.
Dear Professor X,
Thank you so much! I really appreciate it. Here’s the link to the job listing; the letter should be sent as a .pdf file to the email address at the bottom of the page, anytime before 9/1. Thanks again – I’m hoping that this job will provide me with some teaching experience and the opportunity to work on my own writing. Please let me know if you need any more information!
WHEN TO SEND A FOLLOW-UP
- these stress me out real bad but here’s the deal: most professors have a very shaky relationship to deadlines (especially when they have half a dozen more important ones than your piddly LoR).
- the upshot: do not be afraid to nudge them.
- often they need the nudge and are appreciative of it.
- when that nudge happens is up to you and how much room you’ve given them before the deadline, and it’ll look different depending on your relationship with that professor.
GRAD SCHOOL LETTERS
- i offered to send my professors essays that i had written for their classes, especially if i had taken those classes more than a year before asking them to write the letter, just so they could refamiliarize themselves with my work. you can also offer to send them your writing sample, if you haven’t already asked them to look it over for you.
- honestly i’d recommend asking for these in person bc it’ll give you a chance to talk to them about their grad school experience and your own hopes & aspirations, which will help them write a more personal, fleshed-out letter.
- one important note: if this letter is intended for use in grad school applications, do not stress out if it’s a little late. most programs do not care, and pretty much all of them accept late letters without a problem. your professor’s ability to meet deadlines does not reflect on you, and professors are intimately familiar with running late on LoRs. they really honestly don’t care. as long as it gets there before too long, you’ll be fine.
- thank-yous are up to you! keep in mind that many departments have policies about gift-giving. i did give thank-yous to my three major letter writers, but they were handwritten cards & homemade cookies, nothing store-bought or expensive.