Graduate Gratitude: How do I ask for recommendations and follow up on them?

Q: I am in the process of applying to graduate schools.  How should I approach those who will be writing letters of recommendation?  Also, when and how should I follow up with them or thank them?



A: It is best to ask people in person for recommendations if possible.  If not, a letter would be in order.  When asking for a recommendation you might mention the relationship you have with that person, and, if the person is a former professor, you might mention his or her class and bring copies of your work that you did well on.  If the graduate school provides you a form, be sure to bring it with you or include it in your letter.  When a person agrees to write a letter, you should follow up within a few days with a thank-you note.  The note needn’t be lengthy.  A simple thank-you for writing the letter is sufficient and it would be appropriate to add that you will let him or her know the outcome of your application.

One Comment

  1. David

    I have advised many students on the recommendation letter issue. It is vitally important to ask the professor if they’re ABLE to write you a “Good recommendation.” They will understand the implication and appreciate your frankness and assertiveness. If they feel they cannot write a good letter, they will suggest you approach someone within your major or with whom you have had more courses (as a way to opt-out). Even though you may have excelled in the particular course(s), a professor may only be familiar with the quality of your academic work and not other personal attributes addressed in the recommendation letter criteria, such as, level of maturity, leadership abilities and professional promise. A professor can feel compelled to write you a letter because you excelled in their class, but you can end up with a mediocre recommendation. Go with your gut and approach a professor with whom you’ve established a rapport, even if you earned only a B+ in their course. Consider someone whose advice you sought outside of class-time and who has witnessed your active class participation. If you’re really stuck, consult your academic advisor and discuss who might be best to approach. Professors keep letters they have written on file so they can be updated and tweeked for future requests. Don’t think you should ask someone else in the future because you don’t want to bother them again. Your “Good letter” can be easily adjusted to suit post-graduate school and job applications. It is NOT a bother.
    The thank you note is critically important and should be hand written on fine quality stationery and delivered personally to their office, if only through a mail slot, post haste. This, if you’re still on campus, of course.

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