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I am planning to ask professors that I haven't seen in two years since graduation for letters of recommendation.

I want to ask in person so they can see and remember me, but I want to set an appointment ahead of time for this meeting. I really don't want to drop in on the during office hours randomly.

I am having trouble thinking of how this email should me worded.

If I don't allude to the letter of the recommendation and say something like:

*Dear Professor, I was in your class two years ago. I would like to meet with you to discuss something. Sincerely, Student *

Then they have no idea what I am meeting about. But if I say:

Dear professor I was in your class two years ago. I got an A+. I would like to meet with you to discuss you writing me a letter of recommendation. Thanks for your time.

...Then it's like I am just asking over email, which I don't want to do because I haven't seen them in multiple years.

Can anyone think of a better wording for this email?

Thanks!

  • How to write a letter is probably better on an English Stack... – Solar Mike Mar 2 '19 at 7:25
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    Also see academia.stackexchange.com/q/125801/72855 – Solar Mike Mar 2 '19 at 7:26
  • In your other question you mention that this application is for law school. If writing a simple email is something you struggle with I'd recommend for you to really work on your writing skills! And make sure to proofread anything you want others to read... If I was on a law school admissions committee (I am not) your two questions here would create a negative enough impression that I'd worry about your application. Take this random comment from an anonymous internet person as a wake up call. Language and attention to detail are crucially important. Start holding yourself to a higher standard. – user2705196 Mar 2 '19 at 13:38
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    @user2705196 While I certainly appreciate you taking the time to respond to my question, I do find the insinuation about my writing skills somewhat offensive and unfounded. If there is anything concrete you can point to, then I will take this into consideration. But I do not consider the solicitation of advice regarding how to best manage an interaction over email to indicate a lack of attention to detail or writing skill. – Richard3 Mar 2 '19 at 19:32
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You could do sort of a hybrid between an ominous email and a surprise appointment by asking for a letter over email and also asking to meet with them. It could be written something along the lines of:

Dear Dr. Professor

First sentence is a simple introduction stating your first and last name, the class you had with the professor, and the semester/year you had it with them (if the class was a big lecture it could be helpful to also include your grade, but it may not be necessary). This sentence lays out your academic career path (applying to graduate school program in field). This next sentence explains how this professor/class has influenced your academic career path choice. The following sentence asks if the professor would be willing/be comfortable writing you a letter of recommendation. Next, if they are willing/able/comfortable writing you a letter, you would like to arrange a meeting at their convenience to discuss/answer questions. This last sentence thanks them regardless of their reply.

It doesn’t need to be lengthy, but this basic structure allows you to jog the professor’s memory without being too overbearing. It also allows them to have an easy out to decline writing a letter for you (which is beneficial if they do not feel comfortable writing you a strong letter). Remember, it is possible that the professor may not remember you even if you meet in person, or they might completely remember you just by hearing your name again.

If asking over email is really not your thing, you could make an appointment to discuss graduate school so that the email hasn’t asked for the letter yet, but it’s much less ominous.

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I, and I suspect, many of my colleagues, would rather deal with the whole thing in a single email with no meeting needed. That means your first, and probably only email needs all the detail the professor needs. Here is what I tell my own students:

  • Tell me what the deadline is!
  • Include your student identification number.
  • Remind me which of my classes you have taken, and when.
  • How did you distinguish yourself in those classes?
  • How would you describe yourself? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? I am going to have to answer those questions when I write your reference, so the more details the better, but these have to be things I've observed myself.
  • What are some of your academic and nonacademic accomplishments that I may not remember?
  • What makes me particularly qualified to write a letter for you? That is, why should the recipient of the letter value it over a letter from someone else?

I also tell students that they should waive right of access to my recommendation (I'm in the U.S.) because the institution receiving the recommendation is likely to give it more weight if it's confidential. "Besides that, if you don't trust a professor to write a good recommendation, you've asked the wrong professor."

You can offer to meet: "I'm happy to call on you during office hours...," but be gracious if your offer is declined.

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