Grad school and job applications have one major thing in common — they both require references. In some instances all you’ll need is a name and contact information, but in others you’ll need much more. In fact, you’ll often be required to submit a written letter of recommendation.
Letters of recommendation are usually not handed to you, so you need to make sure you put in the necessary time and effort in to get a letter that will genuinely help you. One of the best people to write a letter of recommendation is your professor.
It’s never too early to start thinking about who will write your letters of recommendation. If you start thinking about it freshman year you’ll have four years to get to know 2 or 3 professors, and show them that you are a dedicated and intelligent student.
Obviously the department head and the dean of your university would be your letter writers in an ideal world. However, in reality, it’s better to ask professors who know you personally. For instance, the part-time professor who you’ve spent hours working with on an out-of-class project is better than a dean who has only ever known you as a name on a class list.
Get to know them
Another really good reason to start early is that you should get to know the professor you ask to write your recommendations (before you ask them). Drop in during their office hours to discuss class, join an organization they run, and do everything in your power to develop a strong working relationship with your professor.
Can He/She Write
This question isn’t an easy one to answer, especially if you have no examples of your professor’s work to base your response on, but it’s important. You won’t get to read the letter that your professor submits, so you want to feel 100% confident that it’s well written and will help you succeed.
Does He/She have Time
Professors are generally very enthusiastic about helping you out, but sometimes they don’t really have the time or they forget to write the letter. So make sure you ask your professor if he/she will be able to do it, emphasis the importance of your deadline, and keep reminding them once in a while to make sure they haven’t forgotten.
Get Your Professor Prepared
Make sure you make it very easy for your professor to get your letter written and where it needs to be. When you ask a professor to write a letter for you, create a packet with all of the information they’ll need: details of the job/grad school program, length and subject specifications, and deadline/submission requirements. In addition, you should provide your professor with a pre-addressed and stamped envelope so that they simply have to drop it in a mailbox.
It’s better to have too many letters than too few. So make sure you gather one or two recommendations before you graduate and leave your university. It’s easier to get professors to complete the work when you’re right there on campus than it is to get it through email six months later.
Image: Eastern Mennonite University