If you’re in college, you’ve probably had to apply for something that required a reference letter. No, problem right? You’re awesome so this shouldn’t be a problem. Yet, asking for a reference letter seems to be one of the most stressful things we have to do in college. Here are 5 things that you need to do before asking for a reference letter
- Gather all the information
Make sure that you have a solid understanding of the reference letter requirements. Does it have to be a sealed and signed envelope? Will it be mailed in or submitted via an online form? How long does your referee have to write it? Anticipate every possible question a referee could ask you and know the answers so that you can expedite the process. Having all the information shows the referee you did your research, and they will be more likely to write a better letter.
2. Get your transcripts ready
If you’re asking for an academically related reference letter, some professors will ask for your transcripts. Sometimes referees will be asked to rank you compared to other students. Make it easier for the referee and supply them with this information upon asking them to write your letter.
3. Edit your CV or resume
Almost all of my referees have asked me to provide a copy of my CV. A strong reference letter will speak to more than just your academic performance. By giving your referee your CV that can speak to all the other amazing things that you do on campus. After all, these are the things that are going to set you apart in the sea of applicants, not the fact that you and 126 other students got an A.
4. Create a point form list of the things you would like the referee to highlight
I always like to read the criteria for the letter and provide my referee with a point form list of my experiences and accomplishments that match. Remember that your referee is probably writing a TON of other letters, on top of completing their teaching, research, and their personal lives. Overall this is a win-win because it ensures that what YOU want to get highlight gets highlighted, but it also speeds up the process for your referee.
- Evaluate your referee options
People will often fall into the trap of asking the most senior person they know to write them a reference letter. Just remember that the strongest reference letters come from the people who know you best. Someone like the masters student who supervised you closely in the lab, or the supervisor who helped you get promoted. A heartfelt letter from someone who is “less important” will always be better than a detached and impersonal letter from someone who is “more important”
Asking for a reference letter will sometimes be the most stressful things you do. Don’t forget that professors write more reference letters than you can count in a year. Make the process as easy as possible, and don’t forget to thank them for taking the time to help you advance along your journey!