—Jennifer W., Pasadena City College, California
Glad you asked this question, but I am going to use my “editor” cap to add the word “good” before “recommendation letter” as I know that is really what you meant. Merely asking for a recommendation letter will most likely get you one, but here’s how you can get a good, even great, recommendation.
To answer your question, I went to my dusty files of information that I have provided my students over the years. I found a list of tips that, upon close inspection, seem still to be relevant—although I did freshen them up a bit based on what I have learned since I first wrote them. Seems like the art of asking for a recommendation letter does not go out of style.
- Today, begin cultivating relationships with professors, counselors, supervisors, and leaders of groups in which you participate.
- In all aspects of your college career, act with respect and integrity. These actions will be the foundation for good recommendations from those with whom you have a relationship.
- Start early when applying for scholarships, internships, and jobs.
- Determine which applications require recommendation letters.
- Mark due dates for applications on your calendar.
- Create and keep an updated résumé and send it along when asking for a letter.
- Keep a list of potential people who could write letters of recommendation for you. Be sure to take their contact information in case you move on and no longer see them regularly.
- Ask people who know you well and who have seen you at your best.
- Explain what you need to be emphasized for the application (people skills, determination, academic progress, etc.).
- Provide your updated résumé, and all other necessary documents and information. Include postage and pre-addressed envelopes.
- Ask well in advance if possible and let your recommender know when you need the letter.
- Protect the integrity of the process by not asking to see or handle the letter unless it is sealed in an envelope.
- Always send a handwritten thank you note to the person who writes the recommendation letter for you.
One last plea: I have written countless recommendation letters for students over the years. I rarely have someone do all of these tips, which often makes it more difficult to write a good letter. At the very least, a genuine, thoughtful handwritten note of gratitude can make up for skipping a tip or two and can help you if you need to ask again.