DePaul University Career Center's Blog

The Professor-Approved Way to Ask for Letters of Recommendation

By: Ellie Santonato, Career Community Advisor

Fall is here, which means one thing: pumpkin spice lattes are back! Just kidding. For those interested in continuing their education or returning to school, autumn means applications for graduate school, law school, and fellowships will open over the next few weeks. Overall, the graduate school application process is very similar to applying to undergrad; however, the task of asking for 2–3 recommendation letters appears to be a lot more daunting. 

In high school, where it felt like students could connect with at least 2–3 of their teachers or had the opportunity to have a teacher more than once, asking them for a letter of recommendation seemed easier. Now, as an undergrad or considering returning to school after a couple of years, the same task seems nearly impossible.

Let me let you in on a little secret: Most professors have a general template they fill out for letters of recommendation; the more information you can provide them, the more personal the letters can be. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how well the 2–3 professors or professionals remember you because you will tell them what to write. 

Below is an outline of the necessary materials and a timeline for reaching out to your professors and any current or previous employers. 

Step 1: Gather & Develop Materials

You will create a folder about yourself in an academic and professional setting. You are going to need the following: 

  • Your current Resume/Curriculum Vitae (CV) 
    • If you are unsure what the difference between the two documents is, feel free to check out this Career Library Resource
  • Personal Statement 
    • This is the narrative that will accompany your application.
    • If you are looking for some tips and tricks for writing a personal statement, check out our Career Library Resource
  • A Transcript 
    • The transcript should be your most recent, and it is okay for it to be unofficial. 
  • List of Accomplishments
    • You should provide your recommender with a bulleted list with talking points of information you wish to include. 
      • This list should include when you met, what classes you took, extracurricular activities, academic interests, and academic and professional skills.
  • List of Programs 
    • You should provide your recommender with a bulleted list of all intuitions and programs receiving the recommendation. 
      • Send this as a Word document
    • Make sure you give the valid names: specific program name, concentration name, etc. The professor may use the names you provide to customize the letters. 

Step Two: Create a Target Recommender List

Reflect on what your favorite courses were, were they professors who had more than once? 

  • Most applications, whether graduate school, law school, or an academic fellowship, typically require 2–3 letters of recommendation. 
    • The application or institution’s website will state how many recommendations are required. 
  • If three letters of recommendation are required, two are expected from a professor. 
    • The third recommendation can be from a mentor or an employer 
  • Check your undergraduate institution faculty page to ensure your target professors are still teaching and to retrieve their contact information.

Step Three: Ask for Letters of Recommendation 

If you ask with enough time, the recommender will likely accept. 

  • At a minimum, ask 4 weeks before the letter is due.
    • 6–8 weeks is the best time frame
  • Make sure you are following up with your recommenders. 
    • Check-in two weeks after they accept
    • Remind them when you prefer the letter to be added to your application. 
    • Please be respectful when follow-up. Overall, understand they are busy and have a life.  
  • If you are not sure what to say in the outreach email, feel free to modify the template below: 

Dear Professor/Dr. ______________, 

I hope this email finds you well. I hope you [a. *had a relaxing summer break* or b. *are enjoying the insert time of the academic year*]. I have recently begun the process of applying to [insert type of program] and want to ask if you feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation on my behalf. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my time as [your relationship to the recommender]. As my [professor/mentor/employer], I believe you could honestly and effectively vouch for my [academic/professional] abilities I’ve demonstrated during our time together. 

I appreciate you considering my request, and thank you in advance for your help. Attached to this email is a folder that contains my resume/CV, personal statement, transcript, a list of accomplishments, and a list of the programs I am applying for. The program list includes the application deadlines and details on how to submit the letter. 

If you need additional information, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at [email address] and [phone number]. 

Many thanks and much gratitude for your time and consideration. 

Best/Kind regards, 

[Your Name]

Step 4: Keep your Recommenders Updated

Tell your recommenders what programs you got into and which one you will attend. 

  • Send them a thank you note once you have made your final decision. 
    • If you can send a handwritten note, it makes a difference. 
    • Buying them a cup of coffee does not hurt either. 

I hope this helps alleviate any anxiety around asking for letters of recommendation. If you are interested in learning more about graduate school: the application process, or if it is right for you, feel free to make an appointment or check our graduate school resources on our Career Library page. 

Not sure what the future holds? Need support along the way? That’s exactly where we come in. Whether you’re a freshman or an alumnus, it’s never too early (or too late) to utilize our services.

Book an appointment with Ellie, or another member of the advising community through Handshake, or by calling the front desk at (773) 325-7431.

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