How to Ask for a Reference Letter Like a Pro

At some point in your academic or professional career, you are probably going to have to ask for a reference. Most scholarships and applications require a written reference letter and not just a phone number for a call. So how do you ask that ideal professor or maybe volunteer coordinator for a reference, and actually get one? And don’t forget, making it a positive experience so you could possibly ask them again someday.

My Tips:

1) Ask Early

Giving your referrer as much time as possible to complete the reference will make sure they do not feel pressured and can have enough time to create something everyone will be happy with.

Do not ask for a reference less then two weeks in advance. Remember, they are doing this as a favor and probably have a full schedule already.

2) Create a Folder

Get a nice folder (something simple and plain from the dollar store will do even), and put everything in it that the referrer will need to write the reference: Your transcript, an outline of the scholarship/application, the date you will need the reference by (at least a few days before the application is due), any outline of letter content that is needed, and perhaps a few anecdotes about your relationship with them to help them remember you and your abilities as a student/volunteer. Clearly mark the most important information such as dates.

3) Make it Easy

Meet them in person, if possible, to go over the materials folder you are giving them so they have a chance to ask any questions. They should typically also have your contact or application contact to ask questions that come up later in the process.

4) Say Thank You and Follow Up!

Once that reference is written and the process is wrapped up, say thank you!

This can be a nice note, perhaps a baked good (ask about dietary restrictions), or something else that seems appropriate. Don’t forget to follow up about the results of the application as they would probably like to know how it went.

Follow these steps and you are practically guaranteed to have created a positive experience for everyone involved and hopefully succeed in your application (plus have a potential repeat referrer). Good luck!

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