How to Get a Letter of Recommendation After Graduation

How to Get Letters Even Years After Finishing School

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Letters of recommendation can be hard to obtain if you've been out of college for a while. Many applicants use professional contacts, college alumni, and even long-lost professors to fulfill this important requirement.

Using Professional Contacts

Graduate school typically is a way for a student to get in-depth experience on a topic of interest and often relates to the current job the applicant holds. As such, a professional contact can be a practical candidate for writing a recommendation letter. Ask your supervisor to support your application to graduate school, and the letter can directly address your workplace skills and how you can contribute to the field in the future, especially once you complete your studies.

If you're not able to use your supervisor, you might reach out to a mentor or a colleague in the same position as you to complete the letter of recommendation. In any case, the colleague needs to write about knowledge of the applicant in a professional context, discussing relevant skills such as reasoning, problem-solving, communication, time management, and so on.

College Alumni

If you're not able to use a professional contact, consider asking a graduate of the school to write on your behalf. A LinkedIn profile can be a helpful resource for finding connections who went to the college in question. Assuming this individual knows you well, you can simply reach out and ask. Provide some details on the program you're applying to, achievements you've had in your career, and your goals coming out of the program. This can help the letter be more personal.

If you don't know the person that well, ask to meet for coffee and to get to know each other better. This can be a risky move because the alum might not be comfortable writing on your behalf if you're not close. However, you can ask to still meet to get more information on the program and the college. You may wish to share your resume before the meeting and give some background on why you're interested in the program, and your career goals. Be prepared to ask questions, learn about their experiences, and share your own qualifications. Then you can ind out if the alum she would be willing to write on your behalf.

If you're applying to graduate school well into the future, you might consider reaching out to someone from the school to be a mentor. Then you'll have time to develop a working relationship and you'll be more likely to get a recommendation when the times comes. Plus, you might learn something from your new mentor along the way.

Former Professors

Although many students fear that their professors from years ago will not remember, there's a good chance that they will, and it never hurts to reach out and ask for a small favor in the long and difficult process of getting a professional career. 

Regardless of whether they remember the particular student's winning personality or personal details of their lives, professors keep records of grades that will help them evaluate whether they can write a helpful letter on the student's behalf. Professors are used to hearing from former students years after graduation, so although it may seem like a long shot, it may not be as difficult as some might think.

Even if the professor has left the institution, applicants can contact the department and request contact information like an email address or simply run an internet search on the professor's name. Many students opt to connect with professors on social media, particularly LinkedIn, which allows you to reach out to past contacts and stay connected over the years.

A student contacting a former professor should mention what classes were taken, when, what grades were earned, and anything that might help the professor remember that particular student. Applicants should be sure to give the professor enough information to remember and to write a good letter, including CVs, copies of papers the student has written for classes, and the usual materials.

Other Options

Another alternative is to enroll in a graduate course or continuing education course (as a nonmatriculated, or non-degree-seeking student) before applying to a full program. If you perform well, you'll be able to ask the professor to write on your behalf to apply to the full graduate program. This approach can also help demonstrate your ability to succeed in the program.