There are two common ways to ask for a letter of recommendation (LOR) from your professor for occupational therapy school – in person or via e-mail. You probably should not ask them via text, social media, or similar mediums as this is too informal.
When would you ask in person vs. e-mail? If you are still taking the class or on campus, you may ask your professor in-person. If some time has passed, then this may not be possible. Other situations such as the pandemic make e-mail a more acceptable way to ask your professor for a letter of recommendation.
Personally, I have used both methods. I don’t think any one method is better than another. One downside to asking in person is that your professor may forget about it. With e-mail, they may read it and respond, but you have something to follow-up with if they have not gotten around to it and they agreed to write one for you.
These tips will help even if you have not spoken with your professor in a while.
First of all, we should go over some e-mail basics. Yes, you should read this even if you are used to sending a lot of e-mail. E-mail sending and writing is a skill. There is something you will likely learn from this.
Understand that Professors are Busy
They may get many e-mails a day, depending on how many classes they are teaching, their own projects and research, etc. This is in addition to the e-mails they may get from other faculty, organizations, colleagues, spam, and so on. When you are a student asking for something, you need to understand this.
This is why in general, students should write very succinct e-mails that are to the point. Knowing that professors are very busy makes some parts of the e-mail very important – timing, subject, and body. Also, because they are busy – you should not get discouraged if you do not get a reply right away or at all. Think about how many e-mails you get from friends, companies, newsletters, administration, and so on.
If they do not reply to the first e-mail, kindly send them a second one as a follow-up asking if they received the first one. The professor will likely respond by this point and were probably too busy to reply to your first e-mail. If they still do not respond, double-check that you have the correct e-mail address. If you are sure that you were correct, you may want to consider contacting them another way, e.g. office phone.
Do not send a follow-up with something like this – an actual real e-mail that I got from a stranger on the Internet requesting me for something:
Hello. I’m not a fan of follow up emails as I feel like a broken record. But, I have a feeling the ones I’ve sent you before did not get to you.
You know how I know? You never replied 😀
The third time’s the charm! No, but really.
So cringy. I was actually considering what the sender was suggesting in the first e-mail, but this most recent one really turned me off. When they said “you never replied”, it sounds very accusatory – and you should never sound like this in an e-mail — like ever.
When should you send the e-mail? It’s probably not a good idea to send the e-mail on a Monday morning as e-mails may have piled up over the weekend from professors being out of the office. Monday afternoon would be better. E-mails that arrive around lunchtime may be better in general as professors have likely checked in the morning and some may check during their lunch from their phones. Afternoon is another good option. But if you send it say, after 5pm, it will likely not get read until the next morning. Fridays – probably not a good idea either as your professor is heading out of the office for the weekend. Tuesdays to thursdays would work better. Of course, weekends would not be as good as it adds to the pile of e-mails that get read on Monday. If your timezone is different, pay attention to this as well.
Fix Your “From:” Line
Double-check that your From is your name and not something else. This is the part where it shows who the e-mail is from (not your e-mail address itself). This is important because the 2 most important things that your professor will see is (1) who it is from and (2) the subject line. It’s best to use your real first and last name and not something like email@example.com. Not using your real name may also risk your e-mail being flagged as spam.
Another tip is to send the e-mail from a “professional” e-mail address if you have and not your throw-away one. If you do not have one, consider making one with your real name in the e-mail address, e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a university e-mail address, use that instead – such as the same university as the professor’s. It will also make it less likely to be flagged as spam and/or ignored.
Besides your name (in the From:) line, the Subject is considered the most important part of this process because it’s what the professor sees before even clicking on your e-mail itself.
If you write a poor subject, it will either be ignored or put off for a while. At the very minimum, the subject should contain the phrase ‘letter of recommendation’.
Recent Student Hoping You’ll Write a Letter of Recommendation
Spring 2021 Anatomy Student — Letter of Recommendation
Letter of recommendation request for grad school
Informal vs Formal
Your e-mail should sit somewhere between informal and formal. It should not be too informal like a text message. Leave out abbreviations and slang. You are writing an e-mail for grad school so the e-mail should reflect professionalism. On the other end, it should not be too formal – this may make it sound awkward and make it difficult to read. A good guide is to write like how you would speak to your professor in real-life.
So for example, instead of “Dear Professor Smith,” just write “Hi Professor Smith,”
Oh, and don’t type in ALL CAPS — just thought I’d mention it because it’s the Internet. Proof-read your e-mail before you send it off.
You should start off right away by telling your professor who you are. You will need to remind them (just in case). Don’t ramble or talk about something random. You should waste not time explaining who you are.
Important parts to consider and include:
- What class you took
- So this can frame the professor’s mind in the class they taught. Professors may teach more than 1 class. If you took more than 1 class from the professor, definitely include all of them.
- What grade you got — you probably should not be asking for a LOR from a professor if you got a C in their course. Anything less than an A- is probably not a good idea. This shows your professor that you were well, an “A student”.
- Something to impress your professor with related to what you learned from the class. This will serve to flatter them and also show that you actually paid attention and made good use of their efforts. If you do not remember anything at all, you might want to review a lecture and find something to mention. This makes your e-mail stand out more and more interesting than “hey, I took your class, got an A – can I get a letter?”
- Make it easy for your professor. They should not have to do extra work. Remember they are very busy. Include additional things such as a resume that will help them to write the letter (if they are doing it from scratch themselves). Highlight parts that are relevant for your professor to save them time and to give them ideas about what to write about for you (so they won’t have to read everything which will take more time – they don’t need to know you got an A in another random class, but you can highlight the class you took with the professor as “proof”).
- If you are comfortable, offer to write them a draft for them to edit – this is considered okay too. Offering to pre-write a LOR serves to (1) reduce the amount of work your professor will have to do (2) make them more inclined to say yes (3) it is just an offer, they can decline and write it entirely themselves. If you feel comfortable offering to do this, include it in the e-mail. One of my professors actually asked me if I pre-wrote something for them to edit and look over the second time we spoke after they said yes.
- Include the deadline. This shows that you are considerate (not a procrastinator — don’t ask your professor a week before the deadline!), gives them a heads-up (and if it is early enough, they will likely agree because they have plenty of time to write you a LOR). If they don’t have that much time say, e.g., just a few weeks – it still gives them a head up and to know about the urgency. Try not to procrastinate and ask them this late! It puts unnecessary stress on your professor and does not reflect well on your time management and organization, and they may even decline. But it’s still best to include the deadline because they will always want to know the deadline anyways.
- Ask in a question format (not a statement) asking at the end if the professor will write you a LOR. Always ask the question directly. Afterall, you are “asking” for a LOR. Don’t end the e-mail with a statement like, “I’m hoping that you can write me a letter of recommendation for grad school.” — this is not a question.
- Ask in a closed-question format (yes or no) and not open-ended. This makes it more straightforward and you are asking if they can basically do it or not. Also, this makes it so professors are more inclined to say “yes” than “no” because it’s difficult to say “no” when asked a question like this and for the professor not to try coming off as rude (psychological hack).
- Don’t use “sincerely,” or “regards,” or anything like that. Do you say that in real life? Probably not, so make it semi-formal. I like to just end things with “thanks” to show an appreciation for the recipient.
- Include your phone number. Sometimes, professors may call you right away if they have time to catch up and ask for additional information. Having your phone number provides another way to reach you besides e-mail and saves potential back and forth e-mail, which (1) takes more time (2) could discourage the professor from writing the actual LOR. Some professors may prefer phone call over e-mail anyways. So this gives you more options and increased your chances of success.
- If your school requires a sealed envelope and for the professor to send it directly to the school, make this as easy as possible for the professor. Include the address in the e-mail if this is the case and/or offer to mail them an envelope with another envelope inside that is pre-paid and pre-addressed to the school’s application address. Most of the time, they will probably decline, but it is a nice gesture from you to make their lives easier and save them some postage.
- With all of this out of the way, let’s get to the template! Use it as a guide or copy some parts from it. It’s probably a good idea to rephrase or change some words, being that it is the Internet and you never know if someone else directly copy + pastes this and sends it to the same professor as you. Just in case, you know.
don’t forget to attach the attachment files!!! in fact, attach them first, then write the e-mail.
From: Real Name
Subject: Former anatomy student hoping you will write a letter of recommendation
Hi Professor Smith,
My name is John Doe and I took your anatomy class (A+ grade) last semester.
I still remember your mnemonic for how to remember the hand bones – So Long To Pinky, Here Comes The Thumb. I teach it to my friends who are taking anatomy and they find it very useful.
I am applying to occupational therapy graduate school and wondering if you would consider writing me a letter of recommendation. You probably get a lot of these requests, so I have made this easy for you and provided (in the attachments):
- Statement of purpose
I have highlighted the relevant parts. One of my professors asked that I write a draft for them to edit — I can do this for you as well if you prefer.
The deadline for the application is Dec 21.
Would you be able to write me a letter of recommendation?