Students, when it comes to asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation, there are some key things to think about. Cindi has previously written about this topic (in one of these blogs), today I am sharing thoughts on this subject.
Current first year college students are now applying to get into the all-campus honors program at our university and one of the requirements is to have a letter of recommendation from a professor, not from a lecturer, graduate student or a teaching assistant, but from an Assistant, Associate or full Professor (those are professor rankings/titles). I realize this can be an intimidating request, so here are a few suggestions that might help if you are in a similar situation and possibly feeling uncomfortable.
1. TAKE INITIATIVE: Go to the professor’s office hours to ask for the letter of recommendation face-to-face. However, email the professor before showing up, letting her/him know of your intentions. By emailing in advance, s/he may have a moment to recall who you are. In the email, state which course you took/are taking with her/him, reference an assignment you have done or a point you verbalized in class, or a specific topic you have written about, so s/he can recall you more quickly. You can also inform the professor of the organization you are applying to/scholarship you are applying for, and the reason you have been invited to apply. Conclude with a reminder that you will be coming to office hours on … date and time.
2. TAKE ACTION: Show-up at the office hours you stated you were attending to talk about the recommendation. Share with the professor why you are applying for the program/internship/scholarship. Share specific ways you connect to the mission and goals, and what being part of the organization would mean to you. This way, even if the professor does not know you very well, s/he now has a few details s/he can include in the recommendation. By sharing about yourself and the reason for the recommendation request first, the next parts may be easier and seem more genuine.
3. CREATE AN ALLY: Even if, before this moment, you did not have a personal relationship with the faculty member, establish some common ground by talking about a highlight from her/his course. Share something from class that was challenging for you and what you learned from that experience. Ask the professor about her/his experience teaching your class, or an appropriate question that gives her/him an opportunity to participate in this interaction – just make sure you do so naturally! (You can ask about artwork or diagrams hanging on the walls, a picture on the desk, or award/recognition showcased, if talking about the class is not simple.)
4. CONCLUDE: Tell the professor why you are seeking her/his letter of support. It is okay to be honest: “I realize we do not have a very close relationship, but this application requests a professor’s letter of recommendation, not a lecturer or graduate student, and you are my favorite professor.” Or: the professor I learned the most from, or: the professor who has challenged my thinking, or: the professor who has most inspired me – whichever phrase you choose, be honest! Provide the professor with a few things you would like her/him to consider saying about you, such as: attended every course, participated in discussion, did extra credit, came to office hours, etc., or how you meet, or exceed, the qualities and character traits desired of the applicants. If you are really on top of your game, provide her/him a copy of the application and a draft of your responses to the application questions (if applicable).
This entire interaction will probably take no more than 10 minutes, unless the two of your really get to chatting! This is a great task for confidence building. You can do it – and most of all, please do it without arrogance!