When you are completing undergraduate or graduate studies, or have earned your degree recently, you will likely want to ask a professor or an academic advisor for a reference as you begin to apply for jobs.
Find out who to ask, what information to include in your email requesting a reference, and review sample reference requests to professors and academic advisors.
Choosing an Academic Reference
People familiar with your academic work and performance are excellent choices to ask for recommendations as you begin your career. You may not have a lot of related work experience in your chosen field, and your professors can speak about the knowledge and skills you have demonstrated that will help you succeed in the industry you are targeting.
If possible, request a reference letter from a professor or advisor who knows you well and respects your work and character. That is, don't request a reference from a professor if you were frequently late or absent from the class or did not receive a good grade. Ideally, choose someone who you've spoken to outside of the classroom—during office hours, for instance, or at departmental activities.
Respect people's schedules—if possible, request a reference letter several weeks in advance of when the semester ends or when you'll need it.
What to Include in the Message
When sending the email message, include your name in the subject line. For example:
Subject Line Example
Joe Smith: Reference Request
If you don't know the professor or advisor well, make your connection clear in the email. For instance, you can say, "I enjoyed your class on XYZ, which I attended in fall 2020." It can also be helpful to include a summary of related coursework and school activities, along with your resume and cover letter.
Email Examples Requesting a Reference
The following are examples of email messages to use when you are requesting a reference for employment from an academic advisor or a college professor.
Email Reference Request Letter for an Advisor
Subject: Jessica Angel Reference Request
Dear Ms. Jones,
I am writing to you to request that you provide a reference for me as I begin my job search. As you know, I will be completing my graduate studies this spring, and have found several exciting opportunities that I am exploring.
As my undergraduate thesis advisor and mentor, I believe that a reference from you would provide a potential employer with information to recommend me as a school counselor.
If you need any additional information, please contact me via email or phone.
Thank you for your consideration and support.
Here's a sample email message asking a professor to provide a recommendation for employment.
Email Request for a Recommendation From a Professor
Subject: Recommendation Request - FirstName LastName
Dear Professor LastName,
I have greatly enjoyed and benefited from the four classes that I took with you over the past three years. I was hoping that you might know me well enough and have a high enough regard for my abilities to write a general recommendation for my credentials file.
As you can see from the attached cover letter, I am targeting positions in the publishing industry which will draw upon my writing and editing skills, as well as my organizational ability.
I have included a summary sheet to refresh your memory about some of my key papers, including my senior thesis. I have also attached my resume, which will bring you up to date about some of my accomplishments outside the classroom.
Please let me know if you are comfortable endorsing my candidacy for jobs in the publishing industry. I would be happy to answer any questions and provide further information which will help you to write your recommendation. Can we meet during your office hours to discuss this further?
Thanks so much for all you have done for me and for taking the time to review this request.
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Phone Number
More Options for References
Looking for your first job? Consider using a character reference (personal reference) in addition or as an alternative to academic and employment reference letters.
Remember to Say Thank You
Once your professor writes the reference, make sure to send a thank-you note to your reference, acknowledging the favor. You can either send a handwritten note or an email.
Reference Letter Examples
Review sample reference letters and recommendation letters, letter samples for character references, and letters asking for a reference.