How to Get an Academic Reference As An Online Student

by Jordan Mount


I have a problem. I am an online student who needs academic references and my professors have never met me in person.

I decided to start applying to graduate school a few months ago. As a senior at UCF, I had gone back and forth and then finally decided to go for it. When I started researching requirements, the thing that popped up most was academic references as they  could make or break my acceptance.


As I started to worry and make myself start to accept the idea that I could possibly not get any references at all, I realized that no one gave me advice on things that could make me stick out when I requested a reference. After doing some research, I found that there are a lot of ways that could drastically help your chances in getting a reference as an online student.


Put time into your work!

One thing that saved me when requesting a reference is that I knew that every professor from whom I requested a reference could look at my work and knew the effort that I put into it! I did not, however, ask a reference from my Spanish professor in whose class I stuttered through my videos and retained virtually nothing.


All of the professors that I requested references from were classes that I could say I took something from and put effort into the class. So do yourself a favor and take PRIDE in your work right from the beginning because it sticks out.


Don’t make them have to ask for your résumé or letter of intent!

I was the most embarrassed when I requested a reference and the professor asked for my résumé and letter of intent. The fact that they had to ask at all showed how ill prepared I was. Have everything ready! When you send the email requesting a reference, go ahead and attach the letter of intent and/or résumé. It not only shows that you are prepared but will also allow the professor to put in the least amount of time possible in trying to get the information they need to give you a good reference. This will also allow you to steer the professor in the areas that you are the strongest at, which gives them something that they can focus on in their reference.


Do your best to get involved in an internship or volunteering.

One of my professors requested a CV, which is a résumé geared more toward your academic achievements than your professional ones. I was at a complete loss here. Being an online student with a full work schedule, I didn’t have the time to run for student president or be a part of events on campus. What I didn’t know (and what no one told me) is that there are so many other options that don’t require hours and hours of work on top of what you already have going on.


First, there are so many internships online. Just like you can get your education online, you can also do internships that use Skype and email correspondences with as little as five hours required per week. This is something that is great to put on your CV for your recommendation. You can also put it on your résumé when applying for jobs and is totally worth it! The website   offers hundreds of options for internships both abroad and in the U.S. that are online or on site.


Secondly, volunteering does not have to be done through the school. There are a lot of programs where you could volunteer for once a month to tutor or be a part of serving the community in various ways. This does not require a lot of time and most of them just ask that you come in to apply and be screened before hand so it is not hard to get involved. There are hundreds of options in your community that are easy to find and easy to get started with. Like I said before, this is something that is so great to add onto your CV that shows your professor a little more of your character.


Give them PLENTY of notice!

We all know that sometimes it can take a professor awhile to get back to you about a grade, let alone something that is not a part of the current class like a reference. It is absolutely ridiculous to ask a professor for a reference and tell them you need it back in three days for the deadline. Be prepared, don’t procrastinate, and give them at least a month to get back to you! Some will say that two weeks is good, but if you can give them more time it shows the professor that you are organized and serious about being fully prepared for your applications.


Show your gratitude!

Although this will not help you in getting a reference, this is just plain polite. Professors have a lot of students and most are running classes in person and online. They have taken the time to read your résumé, letter of intent, and have personalized a reference letter just for you. So when you get into the grad school that you so desperately wanted, take just a few minutes to call or write and tell them how grateful you are for their time!


References are so important. They can make or break your chances of continuing your education and they are not something that should be requested without thought. I was not prepared when I decided to apply to graduate school. Luckily, I had professors that I have taken multiple times online so they knew my work. There were, however, professors that flat out told me no. I am hoping that in writing this I can give some insight to the application process for grad school and emphasize the importance of having solid references.