How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation or References

You cannot stay in college forever. At some point, you have to think about your future beyond college. Some students start to look for a job, while others consider volunteering or going to graduate school. Even while you’re still in college, you may need recommendations to study abroad, as well as for internships, or a summer job.

No matter what option you choose, the chances are you will need a letter of recommendation or at least references. Getting recommendations doesn’t seem to be a difficult task, however, many professors note that most students don’t know how to ask for a letter of recommendation or do it in a wrong way. Many students who order their works on ask us about letters of recommendation so we decided to help you. We’ve had many conversations with professors so now we can share some useful tips with you.


Before you ask your professor, supervisor, or coach for a letter of recommendation, you should do some background work. If you want to get a good letter from somebody, make sure that:

1. You know this person

A letter of recommendation is aimed to help a prospective student or employee, explaining who they are and why a professor likes to work with them. Therefore, if you only know this person for a couple of months, you shouldn’t ask them for a recommendation letter.

2. You have a positive history with this person

Obviously, if you’ve barely passed a class, there’s no point to asking this professor for a recommendation. However, it doesn’t mean that you can ask only professors for whose classes you got an A. If you have a B but have demonstrated a strong work ethic, the chances are you will get a good recommendation letter.

3. This person is relevant

If you’re going to apply to grad school in physics, a recommendation from your English professor will be certainly irrelevant. Make sure that you request a recommendation from a person whose specialization is directly related to the internship, job, or volunteering program you’re applying for. You should also take into account your recommender’s qualifications because sometimes they are important.

Letters of Recommendation: the Three Ws

Just as with many other things, if you know how to approach asking for a letter of recommendation in the right way, the whole process will be much easier for you and bring better results. Before you ask your professor for a recommendation letter, we recommend that you ask yourself these three important questions.

1. Why do you need it?

First, you should clearly understand the purpose of your recommendation letter. Its purpose determines what exactly your professor will highlight. A recommendation letter for a job will be completely different from that written for the Peace Corps.

The more specific your recommendation letter, the better. A generic letter about nothing in particular will not help you get the position you’re looking for. When asking for recommendations, explain the purpose of such a letter in one sentence.

2. Who will read it?

This is another important question that you should ask yourself. First, this information is necessary for writing a proper salutation. In addition, the audience of your letter determines its tone and style. For example, a letter intended for a hiring manager of an IT startup will be different from that written for an admission officer. Your recommender should know who they are writing to in order to make this distinction.

3. When do you need it?

Don’t ask for a recommendation if you need it tomorrow. This is very bad for several reasons. First, it’s unprofessional and impolite. Secondly, your recommender will unlikely be able to prepare it on time. Obviously, a letter written in a hurry will be also not as good as you need. Finally, if you ask for a letter at the very last moment, you’ll create a stressful situation for everyone, including yourself.

Don’t forget that when a person writes you a recommendation letter, they’re doing you a big favor. The more time your recommender has, the more likely they will agree to help you. Make sure that you have at least one month before you’ll need to submit the letter.

However, if you tell someone that you need a recommendation in six months, they will likely forget about it. One month is a good option to show respect and to make sure that you’ll get your letter. We also suggest that you remind your professor about the letter from time to time. Even though your recommendation letter may be extremely important for you, keep in mind that it’s the last thing your professor or former boss care about. However, don’t be annoying or rude.

How to Ask for References

When you need to ask for a reference, it’s almost the same as when asking for a recommendation. In addition, we recommend that you keep in mind the following tips.

1. Ask permission

This is the most important thing. Although there is no law that would require you to inform a person that they are your reference, you still must do it because this way, you will get a reference of high quality and show your respect.

Imagine this person getting a call about you and having no idea why they get this call. The situation gets even worse if they don’t even know who you are. Obviously, when the conversation starts this way, they will unlikely say anything good about you. Many people will be glad to be your reference, just make sure to ask them first.

2. Provide your contact information

Most conversations related to a reference will happen via phone or (less likely) via email. To make sure that everything will be alright, provide the phone number and email address. You can get the contact information when asking permission for a reference.

3. Choose the right person

We’ve already explained the importance of choosing the right people but this piece of advice is worth repeating. Given that getting a reference is somewhat easier than asking for a recommendation letter, you may forget about the importance of choosing a person who is actually related to the position you’re looking for.

People who you put down as a reference may either help you get a job or internship, or make things worse. Thus, we recommend that you choose a person who can explain what you’re good at, not just somebody who will say nice things about you.

Never put your family members or classmates as references. It’s unprofessional and such a reference will be obviously biased. Of course, you need a person who will say something good about you, but this person should also be objective.

Final Thoughts

References and letters of recommendation are just a part of the application process. If you follow our tips, you’ll surely get good recommendations that will help you achieve your goals. However, you still need to write an outstanding cover letter, prepare for an interview, and create an impressive resume. Thus, don’t be afraid to ask our professional writers for help!

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