How Can A Professor Know You Well Enough To Write You A Letter Of?

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How can a professor know you well enough to write you a letter of recommendation? Also, when is it best to ask?

In my 25 years of “professoring” I’ve been asked this many times. Here’s my standard response. 1. Give the professor PLENTY of notice—a month, at least. We have an incredible amount of work to do at the end of the semester, and unless you want a boilerplate letter with your name just filled in (“It is with great enthusiasm that I recommend _________ for the _________”) we need time. We need to look up your grades, re-familiarize ourselves with the quality of your work, and what kind of student you were (including absences and class participation). 2. ALWAYS ask in person. This helps us put a face to the name and we’ll remember more. We have hundreds of students a year and, frankly, often forget which Courtney or Brittany or Luke you were. 3. Explain as much as you can about the scholarship/program/job you’re applying for. It helps us make your letter more personal. 4. Give us a CLEAR deadline, and explain exactly what we need to do—where to send it, to whose attention, etc. Be proactive and do as much of the preliminary work as you can. 5. Be prepared that the professor might say “no.” This could be for several reasons, not all of them bad. You just might be ill-prepared and not know it (just because you took an Antiquities class might not qualify you to be a museum curator). 6. Absolutely send a follow-up thank you note. This makes us realize that (A) the letter got not where it’s supposed to go, and (B) that our effort was appreciated. Good luck to you!

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If you want to receive an A, you must do the assignment right. If you want an A+ you have to give it some thought. Don't do those same old “paper assignments” again. They are really just ways to make the professor look bad—and you won’t get an A+ from that either. Don’t let a college professor get under your skin like that.

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