Considering how competitive the grad school admission process often is, it’s common to need at least one glowing recommendation letter. And who better to get this from than one of your past professors?
But what if you haven’t exactly kept in touch with any of them? Don’t worry — you can still get a great grad school recommendation letter, even if you haven’t talked to your professors in months or even years.
Here’s how to proceed.
Start by Sending an Email
This is the simplest way to reach out to previous professors when requesting recommendation letters. As you might imagine, professors are busy, and email allows them to respond in their own time, without feeling harried or put on the spot.
Make sure you send the email at few months before you begin the application deadline. For instance, when applying to grad school you should contact your professors sometime between August and October. Otherwise, they may not be able to write you a letter, especially if a lot of other students already requested one.
If the professor doesn’t respond within a week or so, you can send a reminder email.
You can also call the professor’s office to talk about the recommendation letter you need, or set up a time to meet in person. Either way, try to choose a method of communication that is easiest for the professor.
Get Right to the Point
It’s tempting to use small talk to try to win favor with the professor you want to write your letter of recommendation. But again, professors are busy and may not have free time to chat much with former students.
This is why you should get to the point fairly quickly without a ton of unnecessary fluff or pandering. By the second or third sentence of your email or phone call, you should be discussing your need for a recommendation letter.
Make Sure the Professor Knows Who You Are
If you just took the class a few months ago and have talked to the professor before or after class, or were just a standout student, you shouldn’t have to do much to remind the professor of your skills in school.
The same goes if you worked with this professor outside of class, whether on some research for an internship or a project for extra credit. Either way, if you’re confident the professor remembers you well, getting a grad school recommendation letter should be easy for you.
But the reality is that most students do not have any contact with their professors once the class is over. Many barely talk to them while they’re taking the class! If this describes you, make sure you give the professor as much information as possible so they can write a great letter about you.
In your email, mention which course of theirs you took and when. If you got an excellent grade on a particular paper or some great feedback from the professor during the course, mentioning this can jog their memory. And of course, including your resume in the email is a great idea too. This will update your professor on everything you’ve been up to since graduating.
Make the Process Easy on Your Former Professor
It’s important to include all the information your professor will need to write a good grad school recommendation letter for you. For example, let them know the deadline for the letter so they can plan their time accordingly.
Also be sure to include the instructions you get from the graduate schools you’re applying to, such as whether the professor should mail the letter directly to the school or to you. If the professor will need to fill out any online forms, don’t forget to include those links in the email.
To sum up, the best way to get a great letter of recommendation from a previous professor is to ask directly through email as early on as possible, and include all the information they will need to speak highly of you!