grad school

requesting letters of recommendation: the askastudent edition

Hello Aska,

I’m really having trouble trying to get reference letters from professors. I am a painfully shy person and I tend to do this stupid stutter when I get nervous especially to person with higher authority like professors. I need a good reference letter to get into grad school, but I’m not sure how to approach my prof about it. I should probably talk to him more so that he actually knows me before asking for a reference, but I’m not really entirely sure how to make a good impression especially when there’s 200 students in my class. And how exactly, should I approach him when I ask him to be my reference? Should I bring in a package of resumes, personal statements of experience, and transcript? Please help, deadline is in the beginning of December, and I should probably ask him soon.

– Shy reference needing student


Hey there Wallflower!

For starters, I can?t seem to find any documented guide by UofT on requesting letters of recommendation, so I?m going to make one just for you! 🙂

I?m going to tell you the key thing an old T.A. of mine taught me about grad school hopefuls. Word your request like so: ?Would you be able to write a positive letter of recommendation for me?? Okay, it doesn?t have to be exactly like that, but make sure you specify the ?positive? part of it!

Now onto your matter: the best way to make an impression is to go to office hours. You don?t necessarily need to be that person who always has something to say in class (although there?s nothing wrong with that), but it would really help your cause if you were at least be someone he can identify. I don?t think you can get a particularly strong letter if he remembers you as ?the girl who got an A- in his seminar last term according to this excel spreadsheet? or something equally as generic.

If you?re really, really shy about meeting in office hours though, consider his email policy. Is he okay with you spamming his inbox? If so, send some things from your lectures or readings that really stood out to you. Naturally, make sure you have something remotely monumental to mention, but if you linger in his inbox, he?s sure to at least recall your name. Then you can move onto a title of ?the girl who emailed me every other day with intelligent things to say.? But again, I stress the great opportunity that office hours provide. Not only do you forge a relationship with your professor, but it can really help to deepen your understanding of his course and your passion for it!

As for the in-person approach, I really do not recommend bringing all that stuff in ? not at your first visit, at least. At your first visit, you request. Also ask his opinion: what schools do you recommend? How do you think I should go about this? What was your experience like? Oh, by the way, can you please be my reference?

I don?t think showing him your resume or transcript will matter, but your personal statement should be something you mention and show off. I don?t know if he?s obligated to read it, but it wouldn?t hurt to ask him to do so. At least then, the two of you will be on the same page as to where your area(s) of interest lie.

I know the deadlines are approaching, but don?t freak out! Also, double check the dates for the referees. For example, I know that while an application for an M.A. in English is due in early the December, the referees have until January to send their letters. Why? To give him or her the chance to get to know the student. This means you have time, so no need to stress!

Best of luck!

also looking for letters,


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