Letters Of Rec: Getting Them From a Professor

Originally posted March 24th, 2014

The university I went to is known for having massive stadium style classes. The biggest one I ever had was my chemistry 1 class, which had 400 people in it. Four hundred. That’s absolutely insane.

So how exactly are you supposed to get to know one professor in a sea of other students? You need to stand out of course!

Well, here are a few trick and tips that I used to get on your instructor’s good sides so they can write you a recommendation letter that leave admission committees swooning. Remember, everyone’s situation is different and what works for me might not work for you. But these should be a pretty good way to start.

Know what you need

Different graduate and professional schools have different needs in terms if who they want letter from, but most of the time you’ll need an instructor letter. For example there are some general guidelines that most medical schools require out of letters of recommendation. One of these criteria is you must have at least 2 letters from science professors. But other schools want other things specifically. Do a little research.

Do some digging

Okay, so now you have idea of what you need and want. Take a look at the professors you have in your arsenal. Do you like the subject the instructor teaches? Have other people received letters from them before? Do they know if they get a generic letter or a personalized account of your performance in the class? Do you need to take more than one class to be considered for a letter? Do they only write letters for TAs? These are the important things to find out.

Sit where you can be seen

I am not saying you need to park it in the center seat in the first row of your class. But you should sit somewhere you can be seen fairly easily and that eye contact with your professor is possible. This way, you can demonstrate that you are interested in the material without being too…uh…desperate.

Oh also, show up to class as often as possible. You can’t ask for a letter if you show up for tests only people.

Ask and answer questions in class

Whoa now, make sure you know how your instructor is with questions though. I’ve had both great professors who take all questions and answer them to their best ability, but I’ve also had professors who will put someone on blast if they don’t like a question/answer/response. So if you’re in the clear, make sure you participate in class and get those questions right!

Go to office hours

I cannot stress this enough. Even if you are doing well and understand of the material, think of a question and get to that office. Be interested an involved in the subject. This is really how, especially in a large class, a professor comes to actually know you.

Remember the details

Does your professor like to mention little things about their life? Remember those little quips. When you see them, instead of always asking about class, grades or whatever you can have an actual human conversation with your instructor. This will help them see as more of a peer rather than just a student. Also let them know a little bit about you, especially your future goals. They will feel like they can share in that too.

Do well in class

No matter what you do, no matter how hard you work to impress an instructor if you don’t do well in the class it’s a completely lost cause. And I when I say well, an A or B should be good. But professors need to be able to say how you excelled in the class along with your other med/health school worthy traits. Most teachers in general are uncomfortable writing letters for students if their grades aren’t good even if they really, really like the student. It’s a tough fact, but it just has to be done.

Other things that can help you get professor letters

  • Do research with them
  • Take multiple classes they teach
  • Become a TA
  • Stay in contact with them

Good luck with letters and applications!

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