Applying to graduate school? Law school? An internship? A scholarship? A job? You will probably need a letter of recommendation! Asking for such letters can be intimidating, especially if you are an online student and have limited interactions with your professors. Here are some tips, adapted from a recent panel discussion organized by the School of Historical, Philosophical & Religious Studies (SHPRS) Online Education Committee. Links to the conversation are included at the bottom of this page.
- Ask the person who can both speak to your abilities and best represents you for the position or scholarship you seek. If you are applying to graduate school, seek a letter from a faculty member who knows your work the best and has an area of expertise in the field you are applying for. You want the strongest possible letter, and you will have to put some effort into acquiring that.
- Check your class syllabus and see if your professor has stipulated anything about recommendations, or what information they require. If it is not in the syllabus, send an email early in the semester inquiring about letters and what backup materials would be helpful.
- Supply all the information your recommender will need to write the strongest possible letter. This should include:
- Resume or CV, including any extra-curricular activities or research you have participated in.
- Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose: Most graduate schools will require this as part of your application. It will include your career aspirations, strengths, interests, skills, etc. Your recommender will be able to use your statement to support his or her recommendation.
- Brief description of the position you are applying to, or a link to the program
- Submit your request in plenty of time (at least four weeks, if possible) before the deadline. If you haven’t heard back from the recommender about a week before the deadline, it is OK to send a quick reminder.
As an online student, we know it can be challenging to build the kind of relationships with faculty members that will lead to recommendations. Here are some tips:
- Most (if not all) professors want to help! However, in an online class, especially a large one, it is difficult for them to get to know you personally. Reach out!
- Let a professor know early in the class that you will be requesting a recommendation so that they can evaluate your work more closely.
- Ask questions, participate in discussion boards, reach out directly to the professor if you have thoughts, questions, or ideas about things that have come up in lectures. Make yourself known!
- Attend office hours! If you can’t be available during the posted hours, ask if you can make an appointment to discuss your thoughts, questions, plans, etc. Be engaged and responsive.
- Let the professor know who you are: share your ideas, your passions, your research, your goals. Ask for advice!
- Arrange to participate in independent studies or Undergraduate Research Experience opportunities. Try to take more than one class with professors that are experienced in the fields you would like to pursue.
- Don’t hesitate to ask! The worst that can happen is that a recommender will say no… and the best is that you will have a new mentor!
If you are planning to take a break after you earn your degree and are not applying to a specific program right away, it is still wise to ask for your recommendation letters while you are still in school and your professors remember you. You can request generic letters and store them on a website like www.interfolio.com, where you can retrieve them and have them sent out to institutions at any time. One letter can be used for multiple applications.