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Playing the Game: Getting the Perfect Letter of Recommendation

I once taught a guy who was a real ladies’ man. During the class, I saw him hit on a girl using a logical reasoning question. That takes skill. Much more skill than I was taught during my Blueprint training. He’d shamelessly walk up to anyone and start flirting. I grabbed drinks with him a few times, and it was always the same at the bars.

Then one day, he walked up to me and asked how to approach a professor for a letter of recommendation.

I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now, but take almost anyone and ask them to approach a professor for a Letter of Rec (LoR), and they start shaking in their boots, making excuses.

That’s also when I realized that asking for a LoR is a lot like approaching someone at a bar.

1. Targeting

Maybe you caught her eye across the classroom. Maybe it was the way she smiled at you after you answered that question. Maybe she’s your English professor and the only one you trust to put together a legible LoR. Whatever the case, you’ve got your mark.

On a serious note, don’t be afraid of approaching any of your professors to ask for a LoR. It’s literally part of their job, the one that your tens of thousands of dollars of tuition make possible. If you haven’t been a jerk in her class, she’ll most likely be more than happy to write you a LoR. Pick a professor who gave you a good grade (i.e. an ‘A’), or, if possible, one with whom you have a personal relationship.

2. Preparation

You can’t just walk up wearing the walk-of-shame clothes you wore to class. You have to bide your time and wait until you’ll have the best chances.

Get your (radio edit) together. You should have a paper you wrote for the professor (your best work for the class), a copy of your resume, your personal statement (or, at the very least, a draft), and a cover letter talking about your experience in her class and some of the skills you demonstrated that they might want to discuss. After all, girls like guys with skills.

3. Approach

Clean yourself up. Look respectable. This ain’t no Jersey Shore girl, and head to her office hours. It’s a more intimate setting, and you can take your time and really talk. You know, get to know each other.

4. Conversation

Feel her out. See if she remembers you (hopefully as the guy who always raised his hand for the tough questions and not as the guy who puked in the back row that one time). See how excited she sounds about the prospect of writing you a LoR. If you get a bad vibe, head out and find someone else. No need to force the issue – there are more fish in the sea.

5. The Follow-Up

What? You don’t need to keep fishing? This one took the bait?

Awesome. Leave your materials (I really didn’t mean this in a gross way when I wrote it, but it definitely reads that way), thank her, and head home.

Later, send her a thank you e-mail.

Then, let it be. If she needs anything, she’ll give you a call. If she doesn’t, let it go. Feel free to check in a month later if there are no updates from LSAC, but don’t be that annoying guy who calls twenty times a week. Not only will that result in a slower LoR, it’ll result in a “this guy’s a stalker” LoR.