How to Get the Letter of Recommendation You Deserve

by Franki Gibiser

Letters of recommendation are one of those things that you don’t think about until it’s too late. You can’t just go to your professor’s office hours in the last week of class and ask for them to respectfully explain how excellent a student you are and illustrate all of the potential you’ll have as a candidate in the workforce. Building that solid relationship with your professor isn’t difficult, but it takes a little effort. Here are some things you can do to ensure that your professor will write you the recommendation letter you deserve.

Read the Syllabus

Before you even think about mapping out your path to a recommendation, you need to step back and take the time to read your professor’s syllabus. Their syllabus will not only let you get a feel for their personality and academic mercy, but it also lets you know what their preferred method of contact is. Some professors prefer email, some like you to text them if you are going to be late to class, and some enjoy it when students schedule phone calls to review material. Reading the syllabus will show initiative, especially when you can refer to it later on and say, “I read in the syllabus that you prefer blue ink rather than black. Do you have an opinion on ball-point?”

Stay Engaged in Class

Once you’ve read over their syllabus a couple of times, you can start making some concrete steps. A great place to start is in the classroom. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask a question, answer a problem, or give a relevant comment. Professors like it when students ask applicable and specific questions because it shows engagement and it gives them reassurance that their lessons aren’t falling on deaf ears. This involvement will be seen as a favor that any professor will be more than happy to return.

Go to Office Hours

Speaking up in class is the best way to get some early recognition and build familiarity with your professor, but if you want your professor to write something meaningful about you, they’re going to need to know you. You don’t have to be incredibly personal with your professor, you just have to show them that you are dedicated to their class and to your future. Getting an A always helps, of course, but it doesn’t make you qualify for anything more than “She/He was a great student.” Visiting office hours is the ultimate way to get acknowledgment; you can convince them that you’re amazing even if you don’t get an A.

However, be sure that these visits aren’t a waste of your time or theirs. You should always come with a list of things to discuss. If you have specific questions about an assignment, have them prepared before knocking on their door. You can’t guarantee that another student won’t walk in and interrupt your session, so it’s pertinent that you make your pop-ins efficient. Plus, your office hour efficiency will make a statement about your overall productivity and organization.

Ask Background Questions

Another great way to stand out to a professor is to bring some questions that aren’t directly related to the course material. A professor is someone who has had a tenured career, extended education and years of experience, so why not take advantage of it and ask them for advice. Ask a professor about their journey through academia and into the workforce; it gives you an opportunity to express your goals, which your professor can eventually refer to when you ask them to discuss how your curiosity and tenacity will help to you achieve them.

Create a Professional Online Persona

If you really want your professor to get a taste of what kind of student you are, you should let them get to know you as a student in more than one medium. If you have a good question or  want to get your professor’s opinion on something, shoot them a professionally written email; it will help them to get to know your digital voice. By reaching out to them in more than one way, it shows that you care more about their input than all of the other students who just send emails when they didn’t get the score they wanted. However, remember that you shouldn’t address your professor like your peer. Your online presence should be just as courteous as your physical presence, so don’t include any emojis or sub-cultured colloquialisms; some professors will blatantly ignore emails that aren’t properly addressed or are written in “lol’s” and “thx’s”.

It’s true that your professors can sometimes be intimidating but at the end of the day, professors are human too. More importantly, they know the struggle of being a hard-working student. The journey to getting a letter of recommendation can often hold a lot more weight than just yielding a useful reference. If your professor trusts your abilities enough, they could point you in the direction of a job opening, or you could potentially ask them to be your mentor. A solid letter of recommendation can separate you from others and it can show an employer that you are worth consideration, or it can show a university that you are no stranger to excelling in the classroom.

Don’t be afraid to be the student raising their hand. In the end, it can make all the difference.