Academic letters of recommendation are an extremely important part of your application, but sometimes it can be intimidating to ask for a letter from a professor. Here are 5 ways you can make the process easier for yourself and for your profs.
1. Start Early
Begin planning what programs you will apply for, which ones need letters of recommendations and what professors you will ask. Make sure that programs you are applying for recognize the status of your professor, often universities don't accept letters from sessional faculty or TAs. You may have to ask a few professors, therefore you can't afford to ask last minute; some professors suggest to start asking in early October.
2. Save Your Work
Throughout your undergraduate career, save essays, midterms and projects that exhibit your academic success. Some professors want to see the work you did for them in the past, and graded work is the most ideal. Having samples of your work will also give them something concrete to discuss (for example, your writing abilities).
3. Build a Relationship
Starting as early as first year, get to know your professors. Go to class, participate, and attend office hours. If possible, take classes that are smaller in size, or multiple classes offered by the same professor.
4. Set Yourself Apart
Take advantage of any opportunity to gain research experience. Ask a prof if you can volunteer in their lab, or assist in their research. Consider doing an Independent Study or Thesis in your final year. You'll have the chance to meet one-on-one with a professor, giving them the opportunity to write a letter that is very specific to your strengths.
5. Be Prepared
When you ask a professor for a reference letter, be ready to provide information they may require. Give/email them a package that includes the following information:
- a list of each school you are applying to and the application deadline
- transcript or list of their classes you took and your final grade
- an updated resume or CV
- forms that need to be submitted with the letter (or a link to the online forms, often professors prefer this method)
- your letter of intent or statement of career interest
- + any additional info they request
- Don't feel bad asking for a letter from your professors, it is part of their job description to write letters of recommendation. That being said, if you are prepared and give them adequate information about yourself, you will be making their job much easier.
- Be grateful. Don't forget to be polite and thankful. Show your gratitude by updating your profs when you receive an offer of admission, and informing them of your upcoming academic or career plans.