Asking For A Letter Of Recommendation For Graduate School

Asking a professor for a letter of recommendation for graduate school can be an unnerving experience, especially if you haven’t spoken to him or her in a couple of years. While keeping in touch with your favorite professor(s) is always great advice, sometimes it is difficult to do when you have such a hectic schedule in the real world. There are a few ways you can go about asking for a recommendation. Keep in mind these techniques apply not just to professors, but employers as well. If you are close to the person, it might be best to ask in person over a cup of coffee or tea.

However, the most convenient way would probably be via email. Most recipients will also prefer this method because it allows them time to think before they respond without much pressure. If you never participated in your class and never visited your professor’s office hours, don’t be surprised if he or she does not know who you are. While they might still be willing to write you a recommendation, it will most likely be generic, especially if you do not provide them with any information about your time in their class, what you’ve been doing after graduation, and what you hope to achieve by attending graduate school. Below, is a an actual email (names have been changed) that I used to secure a recommendation from a professor who I had not talked to in almost three years.

How to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation

Email Subject: John Snow – Your Former Student

Professor Keynes,

It’s been three years since I’ve taken your “History of Economic Thought” class and I still think about what I learned in that class. Although you were a tough grader, I’ve never pushed myself so hard to produce quality papers discussing the merits of some of the world’s most renowned economists. It was a true academic delight to explore their teachings, philosophies and impact on society. It’s amazing after all these years how I still think about John Stuart Mill’s ideas, especially his notion of meritocracy, and how that idea seems more and more appealing everyday.

After graduating from NYU, I went to Thailand where I am currently working as an Muay Thai boxer in Bangkok and studying the language of my parents. I have also had the opportunity to travel to China, Japan, South Korea, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia. I have fallen in love with Asia and I wish to do more to create a stronger bond between the United States and Asia.

I dearly wish to attend Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, but I can’t do it without your help! I was hoping you could write me a recommendation. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me. The deadline for the recommendation is January 5th 2015. I know you are very busy and I hope I have not caused any inconvenience. Hope to hear from you soon! Thank you.


John Snow

Response email from the Professor Keynes

Hi John,

I very much remember you as one of the best students I had in that class and I will be happy to write the letter. Have you taken macro with me or just the History class?

Very envious of your trips to Asia, all places I would like to go.



When you are writing your own letter asking for a recommendation, make sure to keep it short and simple. Quickly introduce who you are and when you attended your professor’s class. Any fact or information that makes it easier for your professor to remember you should be placed in the opening paragraphs. You also need to discuss what you’ve been doing and why you want to attend graduate school. What do you hope to achieve? Try not to exceed three paragraphs, and do not forget to let your professor know that you are willing to provide more information and answer any questions.

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