Preparing for Study Abroad

Got the recommendation blues?

October 9, 2015

So you need to approach a professor for a recommendation. I’m going to assume that among my readers there are three types of students.

Student A participates in class frequently, engages in chit chat with his/her professors and has already won their hearts. Good job, congratulations, your job is done. All you need to do is ask your professor after/before class or during office hours to recommend you. They will happily accept because you are awesome.

Student B is totally rude and offensive, is always late, never does homework and has probably dropped out by now if not in the process of. Go home.

Student C is not a bad student. Maybe you don’t sit in the front all the time, maybe you don’t participate as much as you should. You keep up with homework but you also don’t miss out on the other joys of being a university student in a fun city. You have pretty decent grades but just not straight A +s. You are a normal human being but you want to study abroad. You want scholarships too. If only these people didn’t demand that you poke your head out of your comfortable turtle shell! I’m sorry to say that you are gonna need to peep your head out at least a little bit. Don’t worry though, it’s not so grim. You can still get a recommendation.


Here are a few things which you have to keep in mind though when approaching a professor for a letter/recommendation :


Most professors understand that being in college is not easy and that life is hard. Most professors (I would hope all of them), want you to succeed. While a particular professor may intimidate you, they are probably really understanding.


Most professors have really busy lives. Chances are, you aren’t the first and only  student to approach them for a recommendation. You certainly won’t be the last. When approaching a professor, you got to take into account their duties and responsibilities. That is, don’t approach a professor expecting him/her to write you a recommendation which is due the next day. Let them know at least three weeks in advance. Let them know how grateful you are that they are taking time out of their busy lives to help you. Don’t sound too demanding or bossy. 

Professors value honesty. If you come as you are, professors will admire that and be more willing to help you out. “Look, I know I haven’t participated much in the past but I’ve always been really shy. I would really like to apply for this scholarship to help me study abroad so that I can broaden my horizons and develop skills to make me more competitive.” While a professor may not have much to say about you, it’s never too late to start making a good impression.


Most importantly, you need to start building relations with a professor or two, especially one in your Major department. This will be useful not only for a recommendation but also for future networking.


How do I start building a relationship with a professor/How do I make myself known to a professor?

This is process requires some work on your part. While this may not always be an easy process (depending on your overall social skills), it is definitely a rewarding process. Here are a few tips to make your life easier:

  • Sit in/toward the front. This helps your professor at least remember your face.
  • Participate. You may not know the answers to everything, but participation can take many forms. Raising your hand to ask a question counts too. If you don’t have a question, make up a question (even if you already know the answer). Chances are, you’ll be helping out other students who might actually have the same question. More importantly, you’ll draw the professor’s attention to yourself and give off an impression that you are an invested student (which you are!)
  • Do your homework. Don’t be absent. Don’t be tardy. ‘Nuff said.
  • Since life is hard and unexpected, chances are that sometimes you may not be able to turn in your homework on time, or have perfect attendance and no tardies. But be sure to keep your professor informed of why this is the case (in person preferably, or through an email). Most professors are very understanding especially if you have a valid personal reason. Letting them know demonstrates that you take your studies seriously and that you are willing to balance out life and school in order to succeed.
  • Keep channels of communication open. This can also take many forms. You can visit your professor during office hours to ask them to clarify any questions (again, make up a question if you have to) or if you get social anxiety, resort to communication via email.
  • Stop checking social media during class. Professors always know when this is taking place. You will most likely be on their shit list if you do this. Do not be on their shit list!

So, you have done all that you can to make yourself noticed and liked. It’s time to get down to business. It is always ideal to ask your professor for a recommendation in person. You may need to visit them during office hours or catch them after/before class. Just be confident that you’ve been the best student you can be and that you deserve this letter and are an ideal candidate for a recommendation. If you are not able to talk to your professor in person for any reason (conflicting schedules, social anxiety), it is much better to ask them via email than to not ask at all.

Which professor should I ask for a recommendation?

Ideally, you want to ask a professor in your department that you took a class with recently. If you still haven’t really cemented relations with a professor in your department (maybe you just finished your GEs) you should approach a professor which you got a good grade from and one that might remember you.


And here is another great post on the same topic!

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