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How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation in an Email

Updated: May 10

I work with so many students who are anxious about asking for a letter of recommendation from their instructors. Asking for a favor can be tough! 


Before we go any further, I want to assure you of a few things:

  • Your instructor is expecting this ask. You’re not the only one applying to college; they know students need letters of rec, and generally, they’re happy to help!

  • No one is going to write you a bad letter. If your instructor doesn’t feel like they know you well enough to write a meaningful letter, or if they don’t have enough time, they’ll say so. 


If you’re a transfer student, it might seem a little more difficult to make the request, since you may not be able to ask in person. 


As a college application coach, I’ve walked many students through the process of asking for a letter of recommendation via email. 


Let me break it down into steps and give you some examples. You’ll check this item off your To Do list in no time!


Use a descriptive subject line.

  • Letter of Recommendation request

  • A favor for my transfer application


Address it to your professor, using whatever name they asked you to call them when you had class together.

  • Dear Dr. Livingstone,

  • Dear Kathy,

  • Dear Prof. Plum,


If you are not super close, you may want to remind them which class(es) you took.

  • I hope you’ve been doing well since we last had class together (BIO 194 in Spring 2023). 

  • You’ll be happy to know that after taking Intro to Anthropology and Digital Cultures with you, I declared my anthropology major! 


Tell them about your goals in one or two sentences

  • I’m getting ready to transfer and plan to major in Anthropology. I haven’t finalized my list yet, but some of the colleges that interest me are The New School and SUNY Purchase.

  • I’m planning to apply to other colleges that are a better fit for me. I haven’t decided on a major, but I hope to attend a large school where I can participate in research projects with faculty.


Politely request the recommendation letter

  • Would you be able to write me a letter of recommendation?

  • I’d like to ask if you would feel comfortable writing me a recommendation letter. 


Give them something to help them get started! Why did you ask them to be your recommender?

  • Something you worked on in their class: 

    • I was so proud of my final research project on the intersectionality of disability and LGBTQ+ identities during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 90s. I’m looking to continue studying those topics at my transfer school, so I thought you’d be a natural choice to ask for a recommendation letter. 

  • Something about their class that stuck out to you: 

    • One of the reasons I am applying to MCLA is because their art department incorporates art history into studio classes, just like we did in Junior Art Studio. 

  • Something you hope they noticed about you: 

    • I wanted to ask for a recommendation from you because you’ve really witnessed my growth as a student. My final grade wasn’t so great in BIO 101 in the spring, but after I took your suggestion to go to Peer Tutoring, I improved a lot by the end of BIO 102 in the fall. 

  • Something you want to highlight in your application: 

    • Fordham really values service learning. I wanted to ask for a recommendation from you because of the Democracy in Action project in our Civics class. 

  • Add an attachment! 

    • Your essay, resume, a list of the schools you are applying to, or all of the above can be helpful to the instructor.


Let them know about logistic details

  • My earliest deadline is March 15. With your permission, I can put your information into my application and they’ll email you a form to fill out. Or, you can email the letter to admission@college.edu, along with my full name, and they’ll match it to my application.  

  • The application deadline is October 1. If you’re able to write the letter, I’ll add your contact info to my Common App, and you’ll receive an email with further instructions on how to upload it.


Give them an out and request a response.

  • If you’re not sure that you’d be a good fit, please let me know so I can ask another professor!

  • Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you think I should ask a different teacher instead!


Say thank you and sign off with your full name!

  • Thank you so much!

  • I look forward to hearing from you! With gratitude,


Put it all together and you have yourself an email recommendation letter request. 


Here’s an example letter: 


Dear Habiba,


It’s been awhile since I saw you in Arabic II last spring! I hope you’re well!


Time has been flying by and this semester I am applying to transfer for my bachelor’s degree. My goal is to study Anthropology at SUNY Purchase. I wanted to reach out and ask if you would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation for my application.


I thought you’d be a good person to ask because you saw how much progress I made over the course of the semester! Your class is tough but you were so encouraging. I was really proud of my B+ because I had to work super hard for it. 


The transfer application deadline is coming up on April 1. If you’re able to write a recommendation letter for me, please let me know and I’ll arrange for SUNY Purchase to reach out via email with more instructions on submitting it. 


Or, if you’re not able to, please just let me know so I can make other plans! 


Thanks so much for your time and I hope to hear from you soon!


With gratitude, 

Melanie


Melanie Mac Caskie

PVCC Class of ‘24


Have you asked for a letter of recommendation via email? Let me know in the comments how it went!


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