So, during my bachelor years I was a bit of a hermit. I studied on my own, made little contact with my professors outside of the necessary academic/ social situations, and mostly passed on as that rather good student professors don't think much about.

Stupid, I know, but people skills is the worst of my worst developed skills. Also I was stubbornly independent and asking questions during office hours made me feel as if I was failing at being a decent student, so I never asked questions or help.

4 years after graduating, I am thinking of applying for a master degree. I have picked the professors to whom I will ask for reference letters .... and the first deadline is 31 jan. I have received BA and BB with one of the professors (professor X) and BA and AA with the other (professor Y).

I was thinking of emailing professor Y and asking if I could meet him (it is easier for me to ask for the letter face to face, and I think I can make a better case this way). He is a positive, decent person and I think he considered me a good student despite our minimal interactions due to the cold and introverted disposition we both have as people. Also, knowing how busy he usually is, I don't intend to take much of his time and I intend to clarify this in the email.

As for professor X, I will just email him. He is very indifferent towards all students, me included, so nothing I can say face to face will make a difference. The problem with him is that, he probably doesn't even remember me.

So I am not sure if I am going about it the right way. The reason I left this for the last moment is that whenever I opened my email, I felt there was no right way to do it. What would be the most appropriate way to ask for the two reference letters?


2 Answers 2


Just e-mail them. The template that guest provides is a good one.

Some other notes:

  • Professors probably won't remember that you were a "hermit." Thinking about the time I was instructor of record (five years ago), I don't remember any names, there are about 5-10 students that I distinctly remember and whose name I could probably recognize, and then the ~100 other students that I have basically no memory of (many of which were excellent, some of which participated regularly).
  • E-mail is better than requesting a meeting (my advice would be different for current students). Even a brief meeting requires some logistics, while just asking for a letter can be turned around quickly. And, since it's been three years and you are already a professional, there isn't much to offer in terms of 'advising' or keeping a relationship; this is just a transaction you're requesting.
  • The professor won't be able to say much in your letter since they don't really know you. They will likely just describe the course, your grade, and anything else they remember or that they're comfortable repeating from your mail to them. You may want to assure them that this is all you want, as they may be reluctant to provide such a weak letter unless you specifically request it.
  • You should really have given 4-6 weeks of lead time. Writing the letter will probably take all of 30 minutes, but many professors have notoriously poor time management skills, and they may have other legitimate deadlines that they need to give priority to. You should certainly acknowledge (and apologize for) the time pressure in your mail, and get it done ASAP.

Dear Professor Smith:

My name is Freya ASE. I was a student in your class on widget design at Enormous State University in 2014. I am writing to request a letter of recommendation.

After 3 productive years in the workforce at Ballbearings Anonymous, I have decided to apply for the Ph.D. MechE program at CalTech and a few competing programs. While BA has been great practical experience and good use of my ESU training, now I want to move into cutting edge fluid flow research.

Would you be able to write a positive letter for my applications? If helpful, I can supply some bullets to refresh your memory on my class project, class performance and our interactions.


Freya ASE

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