How to Get Good Recommendations from Professors

Plan ahead for College References

Most students spend a lot of time preparing for tests and doing well on their courses, but they don't think much about how to get a good recommendation. Yet it is often those recommendations which can be what finally determines whether or not you get into college, graduate school, or whether you get the job you want.

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Getting into the Ph.D program you want takes planning ahead of time.
Getting into the Ph.D program you want takes planning ahead of time. | Source

Are Recommendations Important?

Absolutely, and more now than ever. After candidates for a job or graduate school are ranked based on scores, grades and essays, recommendations are often a way of making a final cut. A person with fantastic test scores and good grades whose recommendations are tepid may be moved to the end of the pile, while a student whose scores and grades are only moderately good but has recommendations which show that they are a strong leader, work well in groups, put forth extraordinary effort and continually seek to improve may move to the top.

Recommendations can make you stand out, but they can also rule you out of a job, even if everything else looks good.A recommendation attests to your character, motivation, ability to get along with other people, effort and other things which are perhaps the most important things in your actual performance on a job.Employers know that sometimes recommendations are the best information they get outside of an interview.

Recommendation Poll

Why do you need a recommendation?

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How are Recommendations Used?

Having worked in a University for 20 years and in education for ten years prior to that, I've been a part of many discussions over hiring employees and graduate admissions. Generally, the first thing that is looked at is test scores (if they are available). Everyone knows that test scores are not a final indicator of performance, but they are a way to compare applicants. Along with test scores, grades and courses taken are considered as well as any essays you might provide.

How to Choose Someone to Recommend You

What You Need to Do

Unfortunately, many students make recommendations an afterthought, and they may not have good recommendations because they got them from the wrong person, or at the last minute.

Here are some tips to make sure you get the recommendations you deserve:

  1. Make a plan; don’t just think about getting a recommendation at the last minute. Start thinking about who will be able to recommend you for jobs and/or graduate school right now. The better you prepare for this, the better your recommendations will be.
  2. Who Should You Ask to Recommend You?
  • Someone who knows you well.
  • Someone who is generally a positive person.
  • Someone in your field if possible.
  • Someone who is prompt and generally available.

College Recommendation Tips.

Use a polite email to remind someone to finish your recommendation.
Use a polite email to remind someone to finish your recommendation. | Source

5 Steps to Get the Best Recommendation

  1. Be Sure the Person Knows You: plan early in college to think about who you will get recommendations from, take more than one class from that person, talk with them outside of class, go to office hours briefly to talk about your career goals. Let the person gets to know you.
  2. Be Professional: ask if the person has time to do your recommendation, give it to them two weeks before it is due to make sure the person has everything they need to complete it and send it (include stamped and addressed envelopes if it is going to be mailed).
  3. Be Thoughtful: Understand that writing a recommendation is asking a favor. Approach the person that way. Try not to ask for last-minute recommendations. If you do, apologize. Ask them if they have the time to do it. If they say they don't, find someone else. Be sure to send thank-you notes to people who fill out recommendations for you. You might even consider a giving a small gift card for coffee or bringing in cookies, tea or another small gift as a thank you for their effort to help you get into graduate school or a job. Don't forget to let them know the good news when you do get accepted!
  4. Be Sure To Be Remembered Well: Keep in mind that you may need to ask for recommendations from this same person in the future. The way you behave in asking for recommendations says a lot about your character and may influence how the person writes about you.

Quick College Recommendation Advice

Getting a Recommendation from a Long Time Ago

When I returned to graduate school after 10 years in the workforce, I needed a recommendation from a professor. I wondered if any of them would remember me. Here is how I got an excellent recommendation:

  • Research: Be sure to look at the current website of the college or business to find out which people who might know you are still working there. I found my favorite professor was retired, but still taught some classes.
  • Provide Sample Work: I sent my request for a recommendation to that professor, but instead of having him rely on his memory about who I was, I sent in a photo and some of my papers from his class.
  • Provide Transcripts: Include a copy of your transcripts so they can see how you did in other classes. That way, the professor can give a recommendation based on your whole performance at the University, not just on their class. If you have some grades that aren't up to par, be sure to include a note explaining why.
  • Jog their Memory: I also gave my professor some information about what I had been doing over the past ten years. Moreover, I tried to help him remember me by talking about what I remembered from his class and also what I liked about his teaching. In addition, I told him about a few things he had told me when I visited his office that I had remembered and advice that I had followed. Having now written many recommendations and sometimes been at a loss to find something to write about a student I only vaguely remember, I now know this is the most important thing you can do to make sure your recommendation gets written. I know how easy it is to put off a recommendation, especially if I can't think of much to say. Your recommendation will be done better and faster if you give the professor something to write about! .

Why Recommendations are Important

In my case, the preparation paid off. I got in to the highly competitive program. However, it wasn't until a year later that I found out from a fellow graduate student how important my preparation of the recommendation letter had been. The student told me he had been in the group choosing the new graduate students. When my name came up, some professors who did not know me were concerned that I had been out the the field for a long time. Luckily, the professor I'd asked to recommend me argued strongly in the committee that I was an excellent student and that my previous work showed I would succeed in the program.

By spending some time thinking about your recommendations, you too can have the best possible chance of getting the job or graduate program you want!

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Comments 2 comments

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 5 years ago from United States Author

Stephanie--that is an excellent point, and I think that is why it is so important to do your best to make a good choice in the person recommending you. I didn't add it in this hub, but I told my class that writing recommendations is hard to do because often you can't remember specific things about the student. I usually would include a letter which could mention some things that person would know about you or which would pertain to the position you've asked for. You could include transcripts, a resume, a list of activities--or maybe even what you have included in your application. That gives the recommender something to go on when they write.

StephanieBCrosby profile image

StephanieBCrosby 5 years ago from New Jersey

This hub gives an interesting perspective for the way recommendations are used. Something to consider adding is how the length of a recommendation can hurt you. This happened to me. While my recommendations were good, the committee did not think they were long enough (I guess in-depth) to help move me up some more.

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