How to request an academic reference

During – or after – your studies, you may need an academic reference to support you in getting a job or an application for further study. Lecturers are inundated by requests for letters of recommendation, so it is wise to help them help you. Investing a few moments of effort before you ask your tutor can help your request go smoothly.

Using Roehampton's Academic Reference Request Form to provide Lecturers with helpful, relevant details about your application and your time here as a student will help them focus on your strengths and experience. 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 punctuality for lectures, seminars and tutorials, your ability to meet submission deadlines, even your grades (depending on the purpose of the letter).

If your AGT or dissertation supervisor has left or retired from the university since you studied with us: We can provide an academic reference for students in this situation that will be based on the information we have available to us, including the degree transcript that we hold. If you need a reference of this sort, please send this form to your Academic School / Faculty's Academic Services team, and the current academic programme team will endeavour to provide a suitable letter.

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

1. Ask first!

Professional etiquette dictates that you must first ask this person if they are willing and able to give you a reference, 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

You should approach your AGT in the first instance, or your dissertation supervisor if your AGT is unavailable. However, be aware that tutors are not always able to provide a positive reference, whatever their reasons. The universal clue may be a comment along the lines of, "I don't really think I am the most suitable person to do this for you". If you suspect your academic guidance tutor or supervisor has reservations, consider looking elsewhere for your reference.

3. Supply the Lecturer with supporting information about you

The Tutor 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. (The form above can help!)

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

  • Give them your full name and student 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

You should give someone at least two weeks to write a reference. It is unfair to expect someone to drop everything and do you a favour. Although you may 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 in their inbox, 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 needs 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.