How to Get Letters of Recommendation

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When I was an undergrad, I went to office hours with my professors a maximum of one time per semester on average. I didn’t like speaking in class, and I never stayed after to ask questions at the end of class. As you might imagine, this made it somewhat difficult to find professors who would remember me, let alone write a letter of recommendation on my behalf. If you’re in a similar position, this post is for you—I’ll be going over some ways to try to get letters of recommendation when you’re not particularly close with any of your professors.

1.) Try to Build Ties

If you’re still in school, then you still have time to foster relationships. Presumably, you have at least one full semester left after this one. I would recommend trying to take upper-level seminars or other small classes. Not only will this force you to talk in class, but it will also allow the professor to get a sense of your academic skills and critical thinking ability. I would also recommend visiting office hours and getting your professor’s insight on either the class or on your law school plans. Allowing a professor to get a sense of you as a person, in addition to your academic credentials, is the best way to make sure you receive a personal and strong letter of recommendation.

2.) Work Your Connections

If you’re not still in school, the process becomes a little more complicated. I found myself in this position after…well during…my graduation. I ran into one of my professors right after my departmental graduation ceremony. It just so happened that this particular professor had also written a letter of recommendation for my brother, three years earlier (yes, my brother and I went to the same university, majored in the same subject, took almost all the same classes, and both ended up going to law school; no, I do not have any autonomy). I told him how much I enjoyed his classes—fortunately, I didn’t have to lie about that—and mentioned that I was planning on going to law school. The professor remembered writing for my brother and offered to do the same for me (the hallelujah chorus was playing in my head during this portion of the conversation). All of that to say, if you have some connection to a professor that you can use to segue into asking for a letter of recommendation, avail yourself of that opportunity.

3.) Don’t be Shy

At the end of the day, you need letters of recommendation. There’s no getting around it. You can’t be afraid to ask professors—even ones who don’t know you very well—if they’ll write for you. You might have to send some awkward e-mails (or preferably, participate in some awkward conversations; in-person is always better) but that is way better than having to delay your applications because you don’t have recommenders. I would reach out to any professors whose class you took relatively recently and performed well in. During your conversation, try to ascertain whether the professor feels comfortable writing for you, and whether they feel that they know enough about you to write a strong letter. Offer to send the professor your resume, a writing sample, or any other information that would help them write. Professors are people too, albeit really smart people, and most of them are very willing to help students out. But you have to ask, so don’t be shy.

Getting my letters of recommendation was not particularly enjoyable. I’m going through the same process now that I’m in law school, and it is a lot easier since I’ve prioritized building connections with faculty members. Thus, as a final note, I would recommend (hah) that if you’re struggling with finding letters now, you focus on making sure that won’t be a problem in law school. It still isn’t particularly fun, but you can put yourself in a position to make getting letters a lot less painful.

2 Responses

  1. Jordin says:

    So I have the hard part down and have had professors offer to write me rec letters before I even asked. However, I think I might have too many? Right now I am sitting at 3-5? Should I just stick with two? Or does it depend on school preferences? Thanks!

    • Hi Jordin,

      You should stick to whatever the school’s application asks for. Most ask for two, and give an option for a third. We recommend using two professors for the two required letters, and then someone from your work experience for the optional third.

      Best,
      Ross

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