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1 In College Life/ People

How to Request Reference Letters

How to request a reference letter when in college.

How to Request Reference Letters:

Here is an easy step-by-step process for writing letter of recommendation requests:

Step 1:

Personalize the greeting. Use something like, “Dear,” and then add the appropriate job title. Make sure you do not use the wrong title. For instance if you say Ms. instead of Dr. that is disrespectful of all the hard work they went through to get that title. Never use “To Whom it May Concern,” that phrase makes you sound impersonal, cold and it makes them less likely to take the time out of their day to help you.

Step 2:

Ask how they are doing, and make it clear that you know this is going to take up their precious time. Their time is valuable, and although this letter seems like the most important thing in the whole world to you, it’s not to them. Just let them know you appreciate them. Say something like, “I hope you are doing well, and that your (insert season here) is going well. I’d love to hear from you, and about what is going on in your life. If you could take the time to read over my request, I would very much appreciate it. Also, if you have time in your schedule, would you like to write me a letter of recommendation (details to follow)?

Step 3:

Clearly state the deadlines and details about what exactly they have to do for you and when. You want this upfront so they can check their schedules and make sure they have time to do this for you. Include dates, length requirements, and regulations. For instance, some jobs or schools want letters of recommendation sent directly to them, and some want you to include them with your application.

Step 4:

State your strengths. This should very closely resemble what you are writing in your application. If you have won awards, write that down. If you have been published, worked for another company, done any internship, volunteered, include that. List what jobs you have worked, and label what type of writer/business person you are. This is not doing their work for them. This is not leading them in one biased direction or another, this is simply reminding them how awesome you are. You cant expect them to keep track of your life.

Step 5:

List the deadline again, and ask them if they would like you to send them follow up emails. Tell them again how appreciative you are. Lastly, tell them why you chose them to write this for you. For instance, if they are a favorite teacher of yours, tell them why. If they are an employer that you particularly meshed well with, tell them that. This will make them feel validated, and it will make them remember how you two worked together.

Step 6:

Write a personal and heartfelt salutation. My favorite: Thank you, (insert name) because it is simple and wholesome. You don’t want to sound like a spoiled brat. Stay humble in your closing.

I hope that this list has helped you. As I write my own letters of recommendation requests, I know how misleading a lot of the advice out there is about it. While this is not the only way to write this type of letter, it brings me positive results, and maybe it will do the same for you. If you have any suggestions or questions, let me know.

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  • Sarah Destrehan

    I’m so glad that you put this together. I work with many students who will list me as a personal reference without even asking if it’s OK. Yes, that’s slightly different than requesting a reference letter, but you’re suggestions have the forethought and respect that a person should have when requesting either. Thanks!

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