How should a student ask for and receive a recommendation letter from a teacher or professor?

Expert Answers
M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Back in the day, when reputation was not dependent on social media profiles, people found it easy to approach a close relative, friend, or co-worker to get a recommendation. Back then people would not think about it twice.

These were the times before names of people were linked to online profiles, and profiles were linked to site-specific avatars which, in turn, would be linked to hundreds of pages of information online about the individual. 

This being said, you will find that asking for a recommendation in the year 2014 is MORE difficult than back in, say, 1994. Now people's names are ALL OVER the world wide web, and anybody can find anything they want to find about you. It is no wonder why (for instance) I would never give a recommendation, unless I am 100% sure to whom I am associating my name, my website, my business, and my credentials. 

How to fix this? Clean Slate networking

First- Get an email through a provider that has nothing to do with popular social media. Get one through your school or work. Otherwise, build a brand new one on Gmail WITHOUT links to ANY of your social media emails. I.E, do NOT link a clean slate email to a Facebook or Twitter email. Leave those alone. 

Second- Create a clean slate, professional, online profile. LinkEdIN is a great resource. In there, you can post your resume, work experience, things that you have created, and job objectives. Make THAT your professional profile and DO NOT link it to any of your social media email addresses. 

Third- Get the LinkED in URL that is unique to your account, and use it for any communication material such as business cards, or include it in your hard copy resume. Some companies do not want to bother with hardcopies, though,  and may ask you directly whether you are on LinkED in or not. Make the best out of that resource. 

AFTER you have built a professional online presence, THEN you can approach others and invite them to look at your professional portfolio online (LinkED in, or even one made by you separately) so that they can make a decision on whether they would sponsor/recommend you for a job.

HAVE A LETTER READY- Once you do the steps above, and after you approach a potential voucher, show them a well-written letter that is generic but that shows the keywords related to your job objective.

You could create a letter that reads:

To ________

Mr._______ has informed me that he is very interested in applying for the position of ____________ in your company. After reviewing his online portfolio at (LinkedIn URL) I am convinced that ________ (name) will be a great asset to your team. Please contact me at ______ (e-mail address/phone number) for any further information. 

Ask if they would agree to sign. If they do, then you have earned a recommendation. It takes a lot of convincing in this day and age to get anyone to risk their own reputation to build someone else's. Also, people do not have the time to write letters on behalf of people who may or may not prove to be worth their time. This is why it is imperative that you build that online, professional niche to which others can refer when in doubt. 

The biggest mistake people make when asking for a recommendation is assuming that they will get it. Another huge mistake is that, when people give their personal e-mail addresses to others, they seem to forget that ONE email address can be traced to millions of hits on the Net. That "one" comment you leave on a blog or site, or that "one" meme you repost on Facebook/Twitter...."that" funny, saucy Vine you make and post...all of that--ALL OF THAT-- is still authorship. You do not want anybody but yourself to know what you post for entertainment. This is why both personas: your professional and your fun, online presences, need to be completely detached from each other. 

amysor | Student

In my opinion, a meeting in person to ask for a recommendation is much more formal. I would approach the teacher after class, and tell him why you need a recommendation. Then hopefully if they say yes, say thank you! If not, still say thank you. Remind them of the deadlines as well, don't be shy to ask. Also, make sure the teacher is someone who knows you and likes you. That way, your recommendation will be even better because they will have more to say about you!

I simply went up to a close professor ans asked him if he would mind writing my recommendation leetter to whatever college. But if you want to ask someone youre not too close to ( which I would not recommend because people youre close to know more to write about then people youre not) then simlply go up and ask them comfortably if they would feel comfortable writing you a recommendation letter if yes then go for it if not then dont fret there probably telling you this for your own good because they dont know you too well they may feel like they want you to get a better recommendation then they can offer you. Try to find another adult youre close to a guidance councelor maybe a homeroom teacher etc... if you have time get close to a teacher and tell them all about yourself and then ask them for a recommendation letter. 

CaitlynnReeves | Student

This is a very important skill to have! 

step one- Know the requirementsIf the directions ask for all teacher recomendations be aware of that. Or, if it asks for councelors or coaches or acquaintances, or any combination there of, be aware of it; it is important in the next step. Also be aware of what the application does not want. Generally family recomendations are frowned upon. 

step two- Brain storm: Think of people whom you know like you. You want to be sure your recomendations are good, so approach teachers you're in good standing with. DON'T BRIBE THEM. Just be a good student and that should be enough to get a good letter. 

step three- Ask: Ask the staff member in person if they could write you a favorable recomendation letter. Be sure to mention what the application is for and why it is important to you. 

step four- Follow up: Send a follow up email with detailed instructions about the application. Include a list of things you've been involved in or accomlishments you want mentioned. Give them a deadline before the deadline of the aplication. Then thank them in advance. I like to buy small gifts for people after they write me recomendations as a thank you, but this is just a personal preference.

clyoon | Student

The first thing you should do is think of who you think knows you best as not only a student, but as a person too. The closer you are with a teacher, the stronger the recommendation letter can be. So narrow your choices down to a teacher(s) who you think can write the best about you.

Next you should create a document, like a resume, that shows all of your accomplishments in and out of school. Have this ready for the teacher so that they can see what you do outside of class and so they can recognize your success.

Now go in and meet with your teacher. Asking in person is, in my opinion, the best way to ask. Simply ask if they would be willing to write it up for you and if they say yes, then you can hand them your resume. If there's a certain date you need it finished by, let them know so they can meet the deadline. Don't forget to ask them at least 2-3 weeks prior to the deadline though to be courteous!

After they finish it and submit your letter, remember to thank them personally and maybe even give them a thank you card or a gift to show your appreciation.

arrellbelle | Student

I had to start asking for recommendation letter since I was in middle school because I had to apply for the different high school programs. When I asked, I chose to pick the teachers that helped me realize most of my potential, helped further my knowledge in the subjects, and helped me realize where I wanted to take my knowledge to the next level.

As I got older, the teachers I had, had multiple students in multiple classes. So of course, the chances of the teacher remembering me off the top of their head was slim. So I had to make myself known more and when the time came, I usually would talk to them during their office hours and made a suggestion to e-mail them afterwards as a simple reminder. 

Some teachers are rather forgetful because of the hectic schedule they have, so make sure to remind them when the deadline is getting near, but make sure to always respect them and be polite.

Wiggin42 | Student

I just finished the whole college process and here's what I had to do for getting recommendations. 

1. Ask Early--well in advance of the deadline!!
Teachers are incredibly busy so make it a habit to ask at least two weeks in advance if its for minor scholarship and job recs. and one month in advance for college recs. and major scholarships. 

2. Ask the right person
Ask someone you have a strong relationship with. A teacher you've had for three years of high school can give a better recommendation than someone you've only had for a semester. 

3. Be Polite!
Teachers don't have to give students recommendations at all so its best to approach them after class or during lunch when they're not busy. Sometimes it helps to shoot them an email the day before you want to meet up with them so they know to expect you. 

4. Be assertive
Some teachers are incredibly on top of things and will submit the required letter days in advance. Others will ask for periodic reminds and submit five hours before the deadline. Either way, if a teacher forgets, it only hurts the student so be sure to remind your teacher in a friendly and non-aggressive way. 

StephanieRR | Student

One really important thing to keep in mind when it comes to getting recommendation letters is to not wait until you need the letter to pick the teacher or professor you want to recommend you. I am a quarter away from graduating with my BA, and I am so relieved that during my stay here I really connected with some of my professors, so I know there are people to choose from who really know my character and student work ethic.

If a professor doesn't know who you are, there is no chance he or she will agree to vouch for you, unless there is an element of dishonesty in the process. If you are spending all of your classes sitting in the back, not asking questions, not contributing, then you will not leave an impression in that professor's mind. Some of them have multiple classes in the same quarter, and with professors who may have been teaching for several years, contacting them as that generic, quiet student he or she had "that one time a few years back" is just not going to cut it. Start building as many strong relationships as you can as soon as you can. Sign up for smaller classes every once in a while to have a better chance of sticking out than in a giant lecture hall. In either a small or large class, take advantage of the office hours most professors will offer to have some one-on-one time to discuss class and ask questions. Do this enough, and the professor has a much higher chance of remembering you as a dedicated student, and will actually get to know you as more than just a butt in the classroom seat.

Finally, once you do have those solid relationships, don't wait until the very last minute to ask for the letters. As happy as a professor might be to recommend you, he or she will not appreciate you asking them to put aside everything to toss out a letter with a deadline in a few days.

As already illustrated by Michelle Ossa, half the strategy for getting recommendations is preparation. If you are really assertive with fostering relationships and creating a professional reputation, your chances of getting a strong recommendation when it finally comes time to ask are significantly higher.

chrisyhsun | Student

What a student needs to do in order to ask for and ultimately receive a strong recommendation letter starts much earlier than when the letter is actually needed. Preferably, the student will be asking for this recommendation letter after he or she has spent significant time with the teacher, most likely a year of classes. During this period of time, the student must demonstrate to the teacher that he or she is engaged and hard-working. This does not equate to becoming close friends with the teacher and chatting during free times. Instead, purely for the purposes of the recommendation letter, it is important to show the teacher that you are a bright student who is respectful, curious, and perhaps even social (in the sense that you work well with others, have the respect of your peers, etc). Leadership capabilities in the classroom also help, I would think.

That period of time is actually the harder part, in my opinion. As for the actual asking, I would pick a time when the teacher is more free (possibly right before or right after school) and ask the teacher directly whether he or she would feel comfortable writing a strong recommendation for you. A key thing here is to give the teacher plenty of time to work on the letter. The more students asking for rec letters at the same time, the earlier you should probably ask.