How to Get a Great Reference Letter from Your College Professor
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How to Get a Great Reference Letter from Your College Professor

A list of tips to help you make sure you get a great reference letter from your college professor

If you are in college, the chances are that you are going to need at least three positive reference letters from your college professors.  Hard work, a positive attitude, and a thirst for knowledge are necessary. You do not have to be the smartest or most charismatic student in the class, but you do need to demonstrate the ability to learn as well as confidence and maturity.  It is also important to be a little bit memorable.  College professors deal with hundreds of students each week and to get a good letter, you need to stand out from the crowd.  Here is a list of tips for how to make a lasting positive impression:

1. Be visible - This means going to class and making sure you are noticed in a positive way.  (Being obnoxious will not create the sort of impression you want.)  Sit in one of the first seven rows if you are in a large lecture hall.  Stay awake.  Take notes.  Make eye contact with the professor sometimes.  If appropriate, ask questions from time to time, or respond to questions the professor asks.  Staying awake in class  and being attentive will already start setting you apart from your classmates.

2. Attend office hours - Go to office hours with sincere questions or ideas.  If the course material is difficult, there is no shame in getting help.  If the course is so easy that that you need no help, start thinking about the next level and come up with ideas of your own.  Professors love creative students when the creativity is sincere and enthusiastic.

3. Ask for guidance -  It is a good idea to discuss career goals with your professor before requesting a letter.  That way your professor knows what you would like to become and will subconsciously start evaluating your ability to achieve those goals.  If you are doing well, your professor will form positive opinions of your likelihood to succeed.  If your professor helps direct you to opportunities that help you prepare for your career, he will feel proud of you as you succeed in them.  If you do not want to pursue those opportunities, there is no obligation to do so.  If the professor asks, just explain that you found other opportunities that seemed useful.

4. Act like an adult - If something goes wrong with the course or in a lecture be helpful.  Whining is not helpful.  If there is something the professor should be aware of, it is fine to let her know, and it is classy to not be overly dramatic. 

5. Ask for the letter at least one month in advance - Professors are busy people.  Asking for a letter well in advance shows the professor respect.  It is okay to send a reminder after two weeks and then another every week after that.  If you send reminders, make sure they have a polite and respectful tone.

6. Provide a resume and a transcript - When you ask for a letter, it is a good idea to give your professor as much positive information as possible.  A resume and a transcript will give your professor easy access to details that can help her build a strong case supporting your future success. 

7. Provide an addressed envelope- Do anything that you can to take the work out of your request.  This makes it easier for your professor and gives them more time to focus on saying nice things about you. 


8. Send a thank you note - AFTER your professor writes your letter, send a thank you note.  A SMALL gift is also appropriate.  You want to leave a positive impression and gratitude contributes to that.  Make sure that your expression of gratitude cannot be misconstrued as bribery.

Make sure to use your own good judgement about appropriate behavior and interactions with your professor.  Also, try to have about five professors you feel confident in asking for letters.  Some of them may leave the school. Some may not have time  when you make the request.  If you prepare well though, you will be able to obtain the letters you need.

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