Spring semester is a busy time of year for second year community college students as they prepare applications for transfer. Most students are required to submit a letter of recommendation from their professors. Having written many letters as a professor, I have observed both good and bad letter requests. Here is some advice to ensure that you receive the best letter possible!
- Build relationships with your professors – You interact with at least four professors each semester. Chances are, you probably can really relate to at least one of them. Visit their office hours to discuss their profession and share your goals with them. Professors love to talk. They will be more than happy to share their advice and help you achieve your goals. It’s even better if you get to know a professor in your intended major. I teach accounting, so I am always happy to share my career experience with my students to give them an idea of what to expect when they enter the profession. Once you have found those awesome professors, stay in touch so they remember you when you’re ready to ask them for a letter. I highly recommend connecting with your professors on LinkedIn. This is a great way for your professors to follow your progress.
- Act professionally in classes – Sadly, I have been asked to write recommendation letters for students who did not pass my class. It’s hard to write glowing comments about students who don’t do their homework. You may not realize it, but professors observe everything you do in their classrooms and all communication you have with them. If you are habitually late to a professor’s class, or send poorly written, unprofessional emails that begin with “Hey Prof!” the professor notices. We like to write that the student was on time and has excellent communication skills. We can’t state that in your letter if you don’t demonstrate these skills.
- Make your request AT LEAST two weeks in advance – Professors are busy. It is disrespectful to demand a recommendation letter with a 24 hour turnaround. Professors love helping students, however, students must be respectful of their teachers’ time. Again, by providing enough notice, you are demonstrating your ability to act professionally…. another glowing quality about which we can write in your letter!
- Provide supporting documentation – When you make your request (either by e-mail or in-person during office hours), provide your professor with as much information about YOU as possible. You should provide them with your resume, your current transcript, your student ID number, the semester and year you took their class(es), your intended major along with short- and long-term goals, and any essays you are submitting with your application. I specifically ask my students to provide examples of how they demonstrate time management skills, professionalism, participation in the classroom, leadership, and volunteerism. These are the qualities which universities are looking for in students. As a professor, I may not be able to observe all of these qualities in the classroom, so it is good for me to know what you are doing outside of the classroom. The MORE information you can provide, the better letter we can write.
- Provide detailed submission instructions – Many universities are requesting letters online now, like the Common App, for example. When you request a letter, please be sure to provide your professor with all of the details regarding how he or she should submit the letter, whether through an online process or if you would like to pick it up in person.
Take the time now to get to know a professor or two so that he or she may write a sincere letter. Admissions offices know when a professor writes a standard form letter or a genuine one. Please understand that a letter of recommendation lends credibility to your application based on the faculty member’s reputation. To ensure your professor’s credibility is maintained at the highest level, you must demonstrate that you are a respectful, professional, and thoughtful student and the perfect candidate for your next university!
Jill Mitchell is an Assistant Professor of Accounting at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) at Annandale. She has served as the Faculty Advisor for the NOVA Chapter of The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, which was the first and only community college chapter to earn the highest distinction of Platinum STAR. Students and alumni have nominated her for Faculty of the Year for consecutive years. Prior to joining the faculty at NOVA, Mrs. Mitchell was a senior auditor with Ernst & Young’s Business Risk Services practice in Miami, Florida. She is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business where she earned a B.B.A. in Management Information Systems. Mrs. Mitchell resides in Northern Virginia with her husband and son.