Professors: How and Who to Ask for the Letters of Recommendation

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Mar 21, 2010
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So, the applications process is finally here and like many of you I have been anxiously preparing my admissions application. Right now, I am trying to figure out the best way to ask former professors that I have had for a reference request/eLOR.

Well...I graduated at the end of last year, and unfortunately I live hundreds of miles away from my old school. Thus, I have had some difficulty determining the best way to ask for a letter.

Obviously, you want to ask your potential letter writers for a reference in person. My plan is to submit an e-mal and ask at the meeting. Either way, any advice that they have for me would be extremely helpful.

There are three professors that I could potentially ask

The main problem is I don't have any non-academic experience with two of these professors outside the occasional chat about my future. Although I did very well in both of their classes and chatted with them a few times, I'm a little afraid they have forgotten details by now...So, if that's the case, would scheduling an interview type meeting with them to update them on my life be enough to get a good LOR?

Thus... I'm stressing over both whom to request to meet with and ask for the letter and also what my e-mail request should actually say.

Does anybody have any advice about the letter or who would be best to ask? I'm really afraid of asking the wrong person. I would really appreciate any advice, I'm thinking about this way too much!

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Obviously, you want to ask your potential letter writers for a reference in person.

Not necessarily. I asked one letter writer by email, since he was on sabbatical. I did set up a meeting with him, but pretty much just handed him my resume and a letter of intent (he asked for one). Could easily have been sent over email, but I wanted an excuse to see him (and to eat his wife's cookies, but that's a whole 'other story).

And for one of my vets, I left a sticky note on his steering wheel begging him to please, please, please write me a letter. Followed said sticky note up with bigger and bigger notes (and instructions for checking his email :laugh:) as it got closer and closer to the deadline. I probably should have gotten caution tape type material and just wrapped it around and around his truck, since he was the one who scared the bejeezus out of my by waiting til the last minute to submit.

And my other vet I hadn't worked with in about 2 years. Called and asked for the letter, but never met with him or anything. Emailed a copy of my updated resume, and that was about it.

If anything, I would let the profs know you are interested in a letter when you first send the email, that way they can be thinking about any questions they might want to ask you. Really, I don't see why a phone interview or numerous emails back and forth wouldn't be enough to update them on your life.

Do the schools you're applying to require 2 academic LORs? If not, ask another vet or someone else who might know you better.
I would email your old professors to see what they say, the worst they could say is no. I was in the same position a few months ago, I needed letters from two academic persons and I had to use professors at the university I graduated from almost three years ago. Fortunately, I was close to the professor even though I had not talked to him since graduating. He said "how can I forget you?" So it ended up going well and their letters are on my vmcas app right now.

Cowagirl: yes there is one school that requires it and is the reason for my above story.

My point is at least email them to ask for a letter, the worst is they say no or dont respond to your email. Remember you fail 100% of the time when you dont try.
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If you're worried that a potential letter-writer could use more background info on you, I don't think there's anything wrong with offering to provide them a sort of "cheat sheet" which concisely lists your goals, special skills, and accomplishments. One of my professors (who actually knew me quite well outside of class) requested this so that she could have everything fresh in mind. I offered the list to my other elor writers as well, and they seemed to really appreciate the refresher --and my letters ended up being excellent!

If you have the opportunity to ask in person that might be nice, but I second what others have said about email being just fine.

As long as the person knows you well, I would not discount someone just because they write a lot of recs. Like many other things, writing letters of reference can get easier with practice --Prof B. might be a very skilled writer :)
Just backing up more of whats already been said. If you can ask in person for a letter of recommendation it is much nicer but emails are definitely great if thats not possible (unless your vet doesn't know how to use email...). You'll end up needing to remind them via email multiple times anyways as the deadline gets closer and closer. I know one of my teachers who I was close with asked to meet up to go over what she'd like to say about me and stay up to date on my life. It doesn't hurt to ask the proffesors. If they don't feel comfortable that they know you well enough then they'll decline which is fine. It's better to have someone who has a vested interest in you than someone whos just doing it for the sake of doing it.
I e-mailed my professors. I know some people think that e-mail is rude and impersonal, but I knew both were fairly busy and wanted to give them an easy, non-awkward out if they couldn't (or didn't want to) do it. Personally, I would probably hate having a student just show up and spring something like that on me without warning... so I tried to give them the same kind of consideration I'd prefer.

I left things somewhat open and asked if they might be willing to meet with me to discuss the possibility of writing a LOR. Both were enthusiastic about it and agreed on the spot. Neither wanted any additional materials. One met with me during one of her labs to discuss dates/specifics, the other just had me e-mail her the links.

Because I'd left my clinic job a year earlier (tiny bio department= no flexibility in scheduling), I dropped by to pick up something (read: feel out the response) and let everyone know that I was applying. My boss was excited, so I figured she'd be a good choice for the LOR. I called her about a week later to let her know I'd settled on five schools I wanted to apply to, and asked about the LOR then.

After exams, I delivered thank you cards and big trays of obnoxious holiday cookies and baked stuff (I like to play with frosting) to everyone that submitted letters.