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Asking a professor for a good letter of recommendation can be stressful and daunting!
If you are applying to a graduate or medical school, you will need to ask your science professors for a letter of recommendation.
This process can be anxiety-inducing, especially if you’ve lost touch with the professor you want to ask for a letter of recommendation.
But don’t worry, your professors are accustomed to being asked for letters of recommendation, and I’ve got you covered.
Most professors will be happy to help you advance your career and education by writing you a letter of recommendation.
This post will cover how to ask a professor for a strong letter of recommendation, including how to write a professional email request and what necessary materials to provide!
Why a Strong Letter of Recommendation is Important
Strong letters have the potential to strengthen an application and account for any overall weaknesses.
For example, if you have red flags on your application, such as several W’s or failed classes, and your letter writer can attest to your academic perseverance and abilities, that’s a big deal!
Since your personal statement can be considered biased, admissions committees highly value what your letter writers have to say about you.
This is why it’s essential to ask questions during class, go during office hours, and build strong relationships with your professors.
On the flip side, a weak letter of recommendation could potentially be harmful to your application (even if everything else looks fantastic on paper).
Don’t be one of those premeds scrambling at the last month to get letters of recommendation.
These tips are geared toward both graduate and medical school applicants.
- 5 Ways You Can Overcome a Low Premed GPA
- Why I’m Doing a Special Master’s Program Before Medical School
Who to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
Strong letters of recommendation are written by respected mentors, professors, and physicians who can speak highly of you.
First things first, choose professors that will be able to write you a STRONG letter of recommendation.
Someone that knows you well and can attest to your character and work ethic will be able to write you a strong letter of recommendation.
Generally, you need a minimum of three letters of recommendation (be sure to check the school’s application requirements for the program you’re applying to).
- Two science professors
- One non-science professor or a supervisor/physician you’ve shadowed.
If you’ve been out of school for more than two years, some schools may allow you to have your letters written by supervisors, mentors, and physicians instead of previous science professors.
It’s best to reach out to the program’s admissions advisor directly to see if you can have someone other than a science professor write you a letter.
If you’re still in college, start going to your professor’s office hours every other week (if you don’t already) before you formally request a letter of recommendation.
Maybe you don’t have class anymore with the professor you want to write you a letter.
If so, don’t hesitate to pop in during their office hours to say hey or send them an email during the holidays.
The worst thing that can happen when asking a professor for a letter of recommendation is they say, “NO.”
A professor could say no for various reasons, but ultimately they say no because they have other students to write letters for.
Maybe they feel they don’t know you well enough to write you a letter or have too much on their plate.
Don’t take it personally. Move forward and find another professor who wants to help you succeed!
Before you send your letter of recommendation request, ask yourself these questions:
- Does this professor know me by name?
- Have I performed well in this professor’s class?
- Have I worked with this professor outside of class?
- Have I always acted ethically and professionally in the professor’s class?
- Can this professor attest to my character or work ethic?
- Does this professor know me well enough to write me a strong LOR?
If you can positively answer the questions above, you are asking the right person for a letter of recommendation.
When to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
If you took a biology class your sophomore year and want to ask your professor for a letter of recommendation, don’t wait until your junior or senior year.
It’s best to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation at the end of the semester or after you receive your final grade.
The same thing applies to supervisors/mentoring physicians. Ask for a letter of recommendation when you depart from a job/extracurricular activity.
I waited two years after graduating to ask my professors for a letter of recommendation.
This wasn’t intentional, but I did not know this info!
Please don’t do what I did, lol.
Thankfully, I had a close relationship with my professors and went to a private university with smaller class sizes, so I knew they’d remember me.
I requested a letter of recommendation at the end of November for the grad applications I intend to submit in February/March.
You want to ask your professors for a letter of recommendation no later than 3-4 months before you plan to submit your primary application.
For my premed friends, if you plan to submit your medical school application in June, March should be the latest you ask any professor or supervisor for a letter.
Asking too late puts pressure on your letter writer and isn’t a good look.
Plus, there will be other students asking for letters of recommendation. You don’t want to risk not getting a letter because your professors have already committed to writing too many!
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
Since my post-bacc classes were online due to covid, I hadn’t developed strong relationships with my professors.
I reached out to my undergrad professors, who I hadn’t spoken to in two years.
I was SO nervous about doing this that I procrastinated on it for months.
It took me all but 30 minutes to draft up an email and send it to my old science professors.
The worst they can say is no, right?
The nerves are natural, though, and I completely understand how you’re feeling right now, but it’s pretty easy to do.
Let’s jump into the different ways you can ask a professor for a letter of recommendation.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation by Email
This is the most common way to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation.
If you don’t have their email address, you can find it on the faculty page of the university they’re associated with.
Here’s what to include in your LOR email request:
- state your intent to send an email
- remind them of who you are, what classes you took with them, a memorable moment you shared, and tell them what you’ve been up to (if it’s been some time, propose a zoom/in-person meeting if they need a refresher)
- briefly describe why you would value a letter from them (why do you appreciate their perspective and believe they can speak on your qualities?)
- mention any supporting materials you’ll provide (example: list of grades, CV, “brag sheet,” personal statement, AMCAS recommendation letter guidelines) **DON’T include supporting materials in initial email**
- thank them for their time and consideration
Letter of Recommendation Email Template:
Hello [Professor’s Name],
I hope this email finds you well. I was applying to medical school this upcoming cycle and wondered if you’d feel comfortable writing me a strong letter of recommendation. I thoroughly enjoyed learning in your [Insert Class] and believe you can attest to my academic perseverance.
If you’re willing to write me a letter, I will provide a copy of my grades, CV, personal statement, and the AMCAS recommendation letter guidelines. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
[Your First/Last Name]
Email I Sent To My Undergrad Professor:
Hello, Dr. [Last Name],
It’s been some time since we last connected. I hope you are doing well! I’m emailing you today to ask if you’d be willing to write me a letter of recommendation for the biological science master’s programs I’ll be applying to for the Fall 2022 semester.
I graduated from the Nova Neuroscience program in December of 2019 and thoroughly enjoyed learning in your cellular molecular biology class and doing an independent research study on sirtuins with you.
Since then, I’ve completed the medical prerequisite courses in an informal post-bacc and taken additional science classes to bolster my GPA.
I’d love to meet you for a coffee on campus or chat with you during your office hours. Please let me know if you can, and I look forward to hearing back from you.
Tara [Last Name]
Pretty straightforward and casual, right? I was pretty close with this professor and suggested meeting in person to catch up.
Additional Email Tips:
- always send an email from a professional email address (example: email@example.com)
- send the email request from your school’s email address if you have access (it’s less likely to end up in your professor’s spam folder)
- update your email profile with a headshot or attach a professional picture to your email signature (create a free email signature here)
- connect the AAMC Letter of Recommendation Guidelines with your supplemental materials
- don’t email your professor on a Friday or the weekend. It will often be missed.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation In-Person
Ask a professor for a letter of recommendation after receiving your final grade.
Set up a meeting with them during their office hours and formally request a letter of recommendation face-to-face.
Tell them why you would value a letter from them and which of your qualities/experiences they can speak to.
For example, I know my professors can speak about my academic perseverance because they’ve seen me overcome failure.
Before I made the 45-minute drive to my old university, I drafted up a “brag sheet” and brought it with me if my professors wanted to look at it.
A brag sheet is a brief list of your achievements, experiences, scholarships, extracurriculars, awards, etc.
One of my professors noted the fantastic experiences, which made me happy I took the time to make a brag sheet.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation via Zoom
I understand not everyone can or wants to meet in person, so proposing a Zoom meeting with your professors is a great idea.
It may not be necessary for some of you to meet with your professors at all, but if a couple of semesters have gone by, I suggest doing so.
Asking a professor for a strong letter of recommendation via Zoom will be similar to in-person.
You’re first going to want to email your professor to set up a Zoom meeting during a day/time that’s convenient for them.
Dress professionally. You don’t have to wear a suit + tie but a blouse or button-down shirt.
Make sure to tell your professor why you value a letter from them.
Do you believe they can attest to your work ethic, strong qualities, and academic commitment?
Once your professor agrees to write you a letter of recommendation, you can provide them with essential materials and instructions.
Important Materials & Instructions to Include
I did not include all the materials listed below in my letter writers.
I didn’t even have a draft of my personal statement to send them, but my brag sheet and resume were enough in my case.
The quality of materials you provide will immensely help your professors write you a strong letter of recommendation.
Include the following information to your letter writer:
- what the letter is for
- letter deadline
- a draft of your personal statement
- unofficial transcripts
- brag sheet (brief list of extracurricular activities, awards, scholarships, etc.)
- AAMC Letter of Recommendation Guidelines
Ask your letter writer if they need any additional information or materials other than what you provided.
How to Remind a Professor to Submit Your Letter
It’s not uncommon for professors to procrastinate writing your letter of recommendation, so you should send them a gentle reminder 3-to four weeks before you plan to submit your primary application.
Reminder Email Template:
Hello [Professor’s Name],
I hope this email finds you well. I planned on submitting my application on [insert date] and wanted to send you a reminder regarding your recommendation letter. Please let me know if there’s any additional information I can provide.
Thanks again for your support!
If you don’t hear back from a letter writer after sending a reminder email, send them an additional email the following week.
Don’t hesitate to call their office or personal number if a couple of weeks have gone by and you still haven’t heard back.
How to Thank Your Letter Writer
I personally recommend writing a hand written card and sending it to their office at the university (just ask your professor for their office mailing address if you’re unsure).
If that’s not an option for you, sending them a well thought out email will suffice.
Your professors are playing an important role in your application and future success by writing you a letter of recommendation.
A simple thank you card or email will show your appreciation for someone who has taken the time to do you a favor.
Last Letter of Recommendation Tip:
ALWAYS waive the right to view your recommendation letters.
When you waive the right, your recommender is more likely to write an honest letter knowing it will remain confidential.
Furthermore, when you waive the right, ADCOMs won’t assume you influenced the letter writer in any way.
Happy applying 🙂