How to Be A Grown-Up: Asking Professors For Recommendations


Look at these semi-happy, business-casual-attired professionals. Don’t you want to join them? (via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s that time of year again — the snow hasn’t even melted but your inbox is already clogging up with emails from your mom, all with the panicked subject line “APPLY FOR SUMMER INTERNSHIPS — Email Aunt Tanya’s friend about the thing!!! xOxo love you please do this ASAP.” If you don’t have a well-connected Aunt Tanya to hustle you straight into a ~*~*~dreamy~*~*~ D.C. nonprofit internship, though, the ins and outs of summer employment-chasing can be a little tricky. Read on for a guide to one of the most important parts of job/internship-securing — gettin’ that elusive, much-needed professor rec.

  • First, identify the professor of your choice. Ideally, it should be someone who thinks you’re at least OK. 
  • Next, send an email. Here’s a template I’ve found success with — “Hi, Professor X. I’m applying for (X job/internship), and I was wondering whether you might be able to write me a letter of reference. I know you must be incredibly busy, but I just thought I should ask — I completely understand if you can’t do it, but (here is where you insert something about why that particular professor’s recommendation would be helpful, or mention how something that said professor taught you led to your interest in the job you’re applying for. I don’t know your life.) Thank you so much, and I look forward to hearing from you!”
  • You don’t have to bow and scrape, but never, ever make a professor feel as though he or she somehow owes you a recommendation. If you do, you’re just setting yourself up for a “Don’t Ask Me For Shit” response that isn’t going to net you that job at the cute little indie publishing agency in Brooklyn where you could really see yourself fitting in as, like, more than just a summer intern.
  • Once you’ve gotten a yes, do not waste time. Send the professor all the relevant info right away. (By the way, if you didn’t get a “yes”, try not to take it personally. Professors are busy, and you want a rec from someone who’s really going to whole-ass it.)
  • If a professor’s late rec is negatively affecting your ability to meet a deadline, it’s fine to get in touch with a politely phrased reminder. Don’t sound pissy, though, even if you are.  (Also, let ’em know when you get a job they recommended you for.)
  • Arguably the most crucial part of this whole dance is also the most frequently overlooked — THANK-YOU NOTES. THANK-YOU NOTES. THANK-YOU NOTES. They’re not just for your Aunt Tanya anymore! Always thank your professors, even if you don’t end up getting the job. (You will, though. As we already established, you’re at least OK.)
  • Extra points for a handwritten note of thanks — this will likely not be the last recommendation you’ll ever need, and you don’t want to become known around your department’s faculty lounge as “That Fucking Kid Who Pestered Me For A Rec And Then Didn’t Even Have The Decency To Say Thank You, Jesus, What An Ingrate, Let’s All Get Together and Sabotage His/Her Comps for Sport.”

3 responses

  1. Good article, Thrill! One VERY important thing you missed, though: give us fair notice! NOTHING pisses your profs off like a Friday afternoon request for a letter that has to be in by Monday! Two weeks notice is a minimum for most of us; many of us like at least three. Just sayin…

    A friendly prof

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