How to Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email

Two Methods:Sample EmailsWriting Your Email

So, you need a recommendation from a professor for a scholarship? Grad school? A job? If you can, it's best to make your request in person. This will allow you to discuss why you need the letter and help your professor get the best sense of what to put in it.[1]. However, if you're making your request via email, follow these steps to do so politely and effectively and get the best possible reference.

Writing Your Email

  1. Image titled Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email Step 1
    Prepare your email request early. Send it at least 5-6 weeks before the date by which the recommendation must be received. Even earlier is better, if you have time.[2] Don't wait for the last minute. They lead busy lives, and you don't want them to rush through your recommendation, if they can even make the time to write it.
  2. Image titled Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email Step 2
    Choose an appropriate professor.[3] Before you choose which professor to ask for a recommendation, ask yourself:

    • Does this professor know my name?
    • Have I ever spoken to this professor outside of class?
    • Did this professor give me a grade of 'B' or higher in the course?
    • Have I taken more than one course with this professor?
    You want to choose a professor who can write a letter that includes specifics about your personal characteristics or accomplishments rather than "glittering generalities." The more you can answer "yes" to the questions above, the greater the likelihood you're making a wise choice.[4]
  3. Image titled Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email Step 3
    Address the letter properly. Even though this is an e-mail, you want it to look nice. If you were on a first-name basis (meaning the professor specifically asked you to call her by her first name and you did so constantly) address it by her first name. Otherwise use the appropriate title. Let's pretend we're writing a letter to Dr. Jones, who was your professor for Archaeology. Dr. Jones was not on a first-name basis with you, so you will start the letter with, "Dear Dr. Jones" followed by a comma or a colon.
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    Put "Recommendation for [your name]" as the subject line. Always include a subject line with an email. It helps your professor know exactly what the email will reference, and makes it easy to find again later.
  5. Image titled Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email Step 5
    Start the first paragraph by stating what you want. "I am writing to ask if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me." Do not keep him or her guessing. In the next few sentences, lay out the facts:

    • Your name
    • Year in school
    • Major
    • Which course or courses you took with this professor, when, and what grade you earned
    • Why you need a recommendation (that is, what you are applying for)
    • When the recommendation letter is due
  6. Image titled Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email Step 6
    Outline your relationship with the professor. In the following paragraph, point out why you have asked him or her specifically. Tell a little about yourself and why you are interested in the scholarship, graduate program, or job for which you need the reference.[5]
    • You don't want to use mundane reasons like "I want to work there because they offered the most money" or "I want to go to this school because the degree looks really good on a resume."
    • Be professional and say something like, "I chose to apply to this museum because I was extremely excited about their tribal artifacts department."
    • Does this professor have any special connection you are aware of to this company or place of employment? Or if it's a school, is s/he an alumnus? If so, include it. "I know that several pieces currently on display were acquired by you during your trip to the Amazon. I'm extremely hopeful that I might gain a position in a department with such a well-rounded collection to work with."
    • If your experience with this professor had any influence on your choice, say so: "I had not considered going into research until I took your Native American archaeology class. That motivated me to do a summer field program and now I'm excited about the possibility of doing research after grad school." However, don't force this connection if it's not true.
  7. Image titled Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email Step 7
    Use the third paragraph as an opportunity to hint at what you'd like the professor to say about you. You should note what the professor should emphasize in each letter.[6] You'll want to include any information about yourself which s/he may not be aware of. Some subtle ways of letting him or her know are:
    • "I believe that you're aware through our conversations and my participation in your course that I'm dedicated to the field of archaeology. I've completed my degree in Archaeology as of June of this year. I was also able to intern at the museum under Dr. Marcus Brody, whom I believe you know. I also have extensive experience in cataloging items gained through my internship."
    • "My other references will be able to talk about my academic ability, but you are the only one who really knows how hard I worked on my senior thesis and some of the obstacles I faced. I was hoping maybe you could talk about how I handle stress and deal with setbacks, because those are qualities the selection committee wants to see."
  8. Image titled Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email Step 8
    Give the details. Where does the letter need to go? And when do you need it? Are there forms she will need to fill out?[7] If your professor will need anything, such as a recommender form, your CV and admissions essays, etc., attach it to the email. Be specific and clear with your details.
    • You should also note whether your professor will need to write a hard-copy letter or be on the lookout for an email. Many schools and programs these days use electronic recommendation systems, so if that's the case, tell your professor to be on the lookout for an email from your chosen program with the info she'll need.
    • It's a good idea to include your CV, the essays you have written for admissions (if it's a grad program), and detailed instructions for how to submit the letter (including all contact information) along with your email. Send them as attachments.[8]
  9. Image titled Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email Step 9
    Close with information about how you will follow-up. "I'll drop off the form and a stamped, addressed envelope in your faculty mailbox this week. I'll also send you an email reminder a week before the recommendation is due. Thanks again." Or, "I need to submit the letter of recommendation by August 3rd. If you're willing to write me a recommendation letter, please let me know and I'd be happy to come by your office any time to pick it up."
    • Make it easy. You're already asking the professor to put herself out and write the letter for you (she isn't paid to do so). Don't ask her to address it and put postage on it for you, too. You want to be the LEAST amount of trouble, so the professor is not annoyed by having to do work you could have done for her (and should have). Plus, this way you can assure yourself that it was sent.
    • If she offers to mail it for you, let her. If she's always forgetting to do things like put items in the mail or grade exams, then tell her that you need or want to present it in person with other letters, or other materials. That way you can be sure you have it.
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    Thank the professor, whether or not s/he writes the letter. "Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I also wanted to extend an additional thank you for the time I spent under your instruction. I really enjoyed your course, and I can't express how much I've taken away from Archaeology 101."[9]
    • If your professor was truly special, you can be more effusive in your praise. "I know I'll take the things I've learned in that course, and apply them in my life's work. Your mentoring really had a positive impact in my life, and I can never thank you enough."
  11. Image titled Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email Step 11
    Follow through as promised by delivering necessary materials and sending a reminder. Follow up the e-mail with a phone call if you haven't heard anything in a week, two at the most. If you need to call, don't assume anything. First, see if she's even seen your e-mail. If not, be prepared to make your request verbally.
  12. Image titled Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email Step 12
    Take responsibility for checking with the scholarship program, graduate school, or prospective employer before the deadline. You will want to verify that the recommendation was received. If not, send a brief, polite email to the professor and offer to pay for overnight delivery.
    • Try to be as courteous as possible. Skip the accusations and remember that your professor is likely very busy. For example: "Dear Dr. Jones, I noticed that your recommendation letter has not been submitted yet. My deadline is approaching, so if it would be helpful to you, I would be happy to pay for overnight delivery."
  13. Image titled Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email Step 13
    Thank the professor again. After you get your letter of recommendation, send a thank you note to your professor. If the recommendation is in the right hands, send the professor a hand-written thank you note via U.S. mail, not via email. It's not only polite and the right thing to do, but you never know when that will pay benefits down the road. You may need another letter at another time, or if you're in a similar field, s/he may be able to assist you at some other time. If the letter does the trick and gets you the position, call the professor to share the good news!


  • Attach your resume or CV to the email, and point out in the email that it is attached for the professor's reference.
  • Read it before you send it. Make sure you have no spelling or grammatical errors. Have someone else proofread it for you if you're not a strong writer.
  • To avoid appearing pushy, send a thank you note to the professors a week or two before the due date, that mentions the date in passing, as a reminder.
  • If you need a recommendation on short notice, write a short email asking whether he or she has time to do a one-time favor for you and explain the circumstances. If you get a positive response, write a second, more detailed email.
  • Remember those who help you, and always be willing to repay the favor. An example would be you get that museum job and a summer internship opens up for students. You could call Dr. Jones and let him know so he can make his students aware of the opening.
  • Use a pen or ballpoint pen in black to fill out the portion of the forms you might want your professor to use if you have any.
  • If you can, ask your professors to recommend you in person. This is generally considered more personal and courteous.[10]


  • Some professors will take offense to being asked for a letter of recommendation via email. Visiting the professor in office hours, scheduling an appointment, or making a phone call shows that you are willing to give up your time and energy rather than simply writing an email.
  • Remember that they are not obligated to write recommendations. Your professors have generally spent decades working very hard to build their reputation. Whenever they write a recommendation, they are putting that reputation on the line. In general, they are only going to do so for students whom they really believe in.
  • DO NOT ask to read a copy of the letter before it is sent. It is not appropriate to do this, since the idea is that the professor sends an honest evaluation without having to explain him/herself to the student. If you think that the professor may not have the greatest things to say, then ask if they believe that they have the impressions and materials that they need to write a recommendation that WILL benefit you in your goal of...
  • Never list people as recommenders without prior agreement with them. This is true even if you have worked a lot with these people and think you are sure they will write you a letter.
  • If the professor provides a clue (e.g., an email sent to you prior to a completed letter of recommendation) that his/her recommendation won't be as favorable as you might like, thank him/her for his consideration and tell him/her that you have located another referee.

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