4 ways to get a killer letter of recommendation from your professor

By Whitney Lewis
07/31/2015
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If you're hoping to get a letter of recommendation someday, you're going to need to build a relationship with your professor now. Building a relationship with your professor will do two things for you:

1. Make it easy to ask for a recommendation letter
2. Guarantee you a personalized recommendation letter that’ll stand out from the rest

Don’t worry, this relationship is easy to build; you don’t have to remember their birthday, take them out to dinner, or meet their parents. Just follow these four simple steps.

1. Introduce yourself

This step may seem scary because approaching a stranger can be nerve-racking, but this isn’t like going up to a stranger on the street. It’s completely normal to introduce yourself to someone who you'll be seeing for months, and your professor will be ecstatic to talk to you. If you need a little bit more motivation, here's a list of ways to make this introduction easier:

  • Disguise your introduction as a question about the class or the syllabus. Just make sure to not ask a question that was clearly answered in class.
  • Fill in these blanks: Hi, my name is _________. I’m really excited about your class because I want to go into _________. What’s your advice on how to get into that field?
  • Ask your professor if they have any suggestions for how to do well in their class.

Introducing yourself will show your professor you are serious about the class, you are friendly, and that you can take initiative. And it will help them remember you out of the hundreds of students they see every day.

Introducing yourself will show your professor you are serious about the class ... and it will help them remember you out of the hundreds of students they see every day.

2. Participate in class

To participate in class, you will need to attend class. Once you're there, raise your hand and answer questions. When your professor asks a question, that's your opportunity to pierce the silence with your hand in the air. Now, you don’t need to worry about doing this every time a question is asked. A good rule of thumb is to share your thoughts while still allowing others the opportunity to speak. Participating doesn’t always have to be answering a question or making a comment. Here are some creative ways to participate in class:

  • If the professor asks for help, help
  • Be the one to offer to go to another group
  • Volunteer to go first
  • Be a leader in group projects

All of your participation throughout the semester will give you opportunities to show your teacher your great ideas and who you are, which will make your recommendation truly unique and personalized.

3. Try your hardest

Professors and employers are usually more impressed by your work ethic than your final grades. This step is easier because it's everything you already do for class: doing your homework, studying for tests, and not leaving projects until the last minute. This behind-the-scenes work will reinforce that you are serious about your goals and a hard worker. Sometimes, even when trying your hardest, your grade might not reflect the work you've been putting in. If this is the case, go to your teacher. They want to help you, especially if they know you, because you’ve already introduced yourself and are an active participant in class. It’s okay if you don’t get the highest grade in the class. Your professor won’t be thinking about that when they are writing your recommendation; they will be thinking about how you never gave up and were willing to ask for help.

It’s okay if you don’t get the highest grade in the class. Your professor won’t be thinking about that when they are writing your recommendation; they will be thinking about how you [made a sincere effort to connect with them].

4. Go to office hours!

This step is critical, especially if your class size is too large for you to stand out by following the previous steps. Office hours are a great opportunity to ask your professor about the field you're interested in. Plus, they will love you for coming in. Unless it's the day before an exam or a paper due date, more often than not, professors spend their offices hours twiddling their thumbs, hoping someone will come in. Here are some good office-hour topics:

  • Career advice
  • Ask them how they got into the field
  • Ask if they know of available internships
  • Talk to them about what they like about the field

These steps will help you to build a relationship with your professor, gain a friend in your future profession, and get a recommendation letter from someone who is itching to boast about your best qualities and help you grow in your career.

Do you have any other ideas for getting a great letter of recommendation? Share your tips in the comments below!

About the author

Whitney LewisWhitney Lewis is currently earning her degree in professional and technical writing from Utah State University. She is excited to graduate so she can get back to her much-neglected reading list. She enjoys trying new things, and helping others do the same. In her lifestyle blog, she shares her wild perspective on life and honest experience about all the new things she tries.

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