How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Anything you apply for at the college level and beyond is going to be highly competitive, and putting together the best possible application is your best chance of getting it. Detailed, targeted letters of recommendation are key to getting the job, internship, scholarship, or grant you want, but it can be hard to get professors to write good letters. Professors are busy, and it's likely that they don't know much about the specific thing you're applying for.

If you want to get the best possible letter from your recommenders, it's important to give them guidance about what you need from them and make the process as straightforward as possible. Put together a packet of information that will make it easy for your recommender to do a great job.

First, write a cover letter politely requesting the recommendation. In your cover letter, you should include:

  1. A description of what you're applying for. Is it a job, internship, or grant? What is it meant to promote or reward? What kind of skills are they looking for (i.e. exceptional leadership, research skills, commitment to community service, potential within your chosen field, interesting summer research or internships to support, etc)? On what criteria will they award the money/opportunity? Does the organization offering the opportunity have a mission statement? If so, what is their mission? How do you help them further their mission?
  2. How this experience will benefit you. Speaking as someone who frequently writes letters of recommendation, it's much easier to be convincing when it's clear why you need what you're applying for. Will it advance your academic career? Help you develop new skills? Introduce you to new job opportunities? Help you give back to your community? Give you access to an important resource (like an archive, type of research equipment, etc.) that you otherwise couldn't access?
  3. Any special requests you have for the recommender. For example, if you will be judged on both community service and academic ability, you might say "one of my other recommenders is going to discuss my community service experience in detail; it would be most helpful if you could focus on my research skills."

In addition to your cover letter, you should include:

  1. A copy of the original announcement of the job/internship/grant and a link to the organization's website if they have one.
  2. A copy of any cover letter or personal statement that you have written to submit with your application. You don't have to give your professors the final draft, but you should give them a well-developed and professional draft.
  3. Your CV. Make sure it is easy to read and written in a professional font (Times New Roman, Arial). There are lots of examples online if you need some help.
  4. A copy of your unofficial transcript.
  5. A pre-addressed, stamped envelope if the letter needs to be sent in hard copy.