“To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow, / All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.” –Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 20
If you are applying to graduate or professional school, you might need recommendation letters. Your instructors and professors at UGA are one important, potential source for those letters. Ideally, you are looking for someone who, in addition to agreeing to write a letter for you, is likely to write a strong letter that speaks to your potential success in your next degree program. Ideally, you have cultivated relationships with your potential recommenders and had several conversations about your post-graduation goals. Ideally, you engaged your recommenders by visiting office hours, doing well in classes, and involving yourself in the activities of your college or major department. Ideally, your recommenders are quickly accessible to you at the time that you need a letter, and you have contacted them a couple of months in advance of your deadline to confirm their availability to write one. If you are ready to ask right now, here is a template for doing so. However, if your situation is far from ideal, you could use a strategy for reaching out to recommenders that starts at step one.
Step 1: Review Your Transcript and Reflect on Your Interactions with Professors
Reflecting on some of these questions will help you explore potential contacts. What classes did you take where you made an “A” (or at least a “B”)? How long ago did you take them? Was the class fulfilling, engaging, or impactful? What do you most remember learning? How would you describe your relationship with your professor? Have you taken one or a few classes with this person? Did you participate or ask questions? What kind of feedback did you receive on assignments? Was the class large or small? Did it relate to your major or career goals? Please note that good recommenders can still come from large classes not related to your major. Focus on your individual relationship to assess the potential strength of the recommendation. Search for directory profiles of your potential recommenders on their department’s website to find current contact information. Spend some time researching any information on that profile like a biography, academic background, research interests, personal websites, etc.
Step 2: Request an Informational Interview
If it has been a while since you have been in contact with the person you identified as a potential recommender, you might benefit from reintroducing yourself. At the very least, it is polite to remind your contact about which of their classes you took, when you had it, and what grade you made. If you find it awkward at all to have your first, new outreach be a direct request for a recommendation letter, a helpful intermediate step would be to adapt the concept of informational interviewing. An informational interview is an opportunity to spend about 20-30 minutes with a professional in a career field of interest. Your professors can probably give you helpful advice on your graduate school goals and career aspirations. Asking questions related to their background, motivation, and insight can help you get to know them better. The questions you choose and responses you give can also reveal your interests and help them get to know you. Informational interviews, including an additional e-mail template for your outreach, are outlined on p. 24 of our current Career Guide or in the correspondence examples on our website. Make the outreach your own by including specific details and customizing the questions to your genuine interests.
Dear Dr. _,
I hope the semester is going well so far! I am reaching out to you because I am seeking advice on my post-graduation goals. I really enjoyed taking your _ class where I made an “A” during the _ semester and would value your opinion. I have an idea that I want to work in _. I am deciding between graduate programs, and I am seeking input on exploring my options. At your convenience, could I borrow 20 minutes of your time to ask a few questions about these ideas?
Step 3: Thank You Message and Follow-Up
Any time that someone opens their schedule to help you, send a message that specifically thanks them for some insight or impact they provided. Depending on how your conversation went for your informational interview, you might feel emboldened to ask for a letter of recommendation at this stage. You might choose to let this message of gratitude stand on its own and follow with your request sooner rather than later. You might choose to further develop your relationship through some other means or additional conversation before asking. You will need to reflect on how well you think your potential recommender got to know you before taking the next big step. You can find an additional template for a networking thank you message in the correspondence examples of our website.
Hello Dr. _,
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me yesterday about my next steps. I appreciate your advice, and our conversation helped me to consider my graduate school goals. I was wanting to know if, when I have a specific goal in mind, could I contact you about writing a recommendation letter for me? It would probably be closer to the beginning of next semester, and I can send you all the relevant details then.
Step 4: If Yes, Provide Everything Your Recommender Needs in One E-mail
During the lead up to confirmation of a letter, you have probably exchanged a lot of information with your recommender. For their convenience, when they are able to set aside time to write good things about you, give them all the relevant details in one place. Examples of what they may need could include your resume/CV, personal statement, a list of graduate programs that you are applying to, submission instructions, etc. Depending on your needs, you can find examples of what to provide from the Career Center, Pre-Professional Advising Office, Psychology Department, Criminal Justice Department, and maybe even your own major department.
The suggestions above borrow from networking concepts that can apply to other situations and other sources of recommendation letters (employers, volunteer coordinators, or an alumni mentor from the UGA Mentor Program). Hopefully you now have some tools to re-establish these relationships from a place of sincerity and genuine connection that makes asking for this big favor a lot easier. For more help on graduate school preparation, please see our Getting Into Grad School page, review the Career Guide, or take some time for a virtual appointment or drop-in session.
“I exist as I am, that is enough, / If no other in the world be aware I sit content, / And if each and all be aware I sit content.” –Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 20