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How to request an academic reference

Most students need an academic reference sooner or later. With graduation or summer vacation looming, jobs and internships are on the minds of many students. Lecturers are inundated by requests for letters of recommendation, but asking for a reference need not be a nerve-wracking experience and can even be an opportunity for personal growth. Perhaps you are applying for a graduate scheme or a summer internship – or maybe you are trying to get onto a post-graduate course? Although a good reference is unlikely to get you a job on its own merit, a poor one could cost you a coveted position. Therefore, it is worth taking time to make sure you get the best references you possibly can. 

Use Liverpool Hope University’s Academic Reference Request Form to provide Lecturers with helpful, relevant details about your application and your time here as a student at Liverpool Hope University.  However, it is important that you understand that they have an obligation to be completely honest when writing an academic reference; they will be commenting on your attendance and engagement on the course, your promptness at arriving in time for lectures, seminars and tutorials and about meeting deadlines for handing in your work.

To obtain a high quality academic reference, my advice is to make it as easy as possible for your Lecturer to write your reference quickly and effectively.  Here are six top tips to help you.  

1. Ask first!

The most important thing to be aware of is that you actually have to ‘request’ the academic reference;  professional etiquette dictates that you must first ask this person if they are willing to do it, before you list them as a Referee on an application form!  If you’ve already committed this faux pas, it’s not too late; ring or email them as soon as possible to explain what you’ve done and apologise for not asking them first.

2. Make sure you are asking the right person

Keep in mind that most Lecturers are not going to want to come right out and tell you that they don’t think you warrant a good reference from them – no matter what their reasons might be.  The universal clue is a comment something like, “I don’t really think I am the most suitable person to do this for you” and you suspect your contact may have reservations; consider looking elsewhere for your reference.  You may not get a winning reference from this person.

3. Supply the Lecturer with supporting information about you

The Lecturer needs to know to whom you are applying and for what position. This applies not just to the initial application but to any subsequent applications.  Keep them informed of your progress and any changes of circumstance i.e. extra experience gained since you last spoke to them. 

Whether you are meeting in person or requesting the reference by email – there are a few pieces of essential information that you should supply in order to make it as easy as possible for the Lecturer to provide the academic reference. 

  • Give them your full name and ID number.
  • Bring along (or email) a copy of your transcripts and your current C.V.
  • Provide the Lecturer with copies of any completed application forms and/or proposal you may be sending yourself, so they know what information you will have provided.
  • Provide details of what the reference is for, including whether it will be delivered in written form or by phone.  If there is a referee’s form, be sure to fill out your own information first (it’s usually at the top of the form).  Also be sure to provide the Lecturer with the referee’s instructions.  Often the Lecturer will request that you provide the form(s) and instructions in a follow up email. Don’t just refer them to a web site for this – download anything they will need and send it to them. 
  • Be sure to tell the Lecturer the deadline and the (email or physical) address to which the reference must be sent.  It’s especially important to let them know if the reference cannot be provided electronically, since time will be needed to get it there if a paper copy must be submitted. 

4. Give them time to write the letter

I ask people to give me two weeks to write a reference and usually, I save letters of recommendation on my computer so that I can quickly generate others as needed.  However, students should realise that although they have been considering for months whether to apply for a post graduate course or graduate scheme, it is only common courtesy to give people more than two or three days to write a letter.  Lecturers are very busy and may have several requests so the more time they have to think about and write a letter, the better it is likely to be.

5. Send a friendly reminder

A couple of days before the reference has to be submitted send a ‘friendly reminder’ that the deadline is approaching.  Briefly remind them of who the reference is for, the specific date it’s due, and the required method of delivery (snail mail or electronic).  You can also offer to resend them any of the background information or forms (from item 3 above).  Close by politely asking them to send you a confirmation email once they have sent off the reference.

6. Follow-up with a thank you

After the application process is completed or after you get the job, you should write notes of appreciation to your referees. Not only has the person spent considerable time composing his or her letter, but also because there may come a time when you need another letter of recommendation from that person.  A quick thank-you note will likely be remembered and that will make it easier to ask for another letter – perhaps years later when applying for post graduate or professional development courses where an academic reference is needed.