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How Can I Acquire a Letter of Recommendation from an Online Course?

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: June 23, 2021

Your graduate school probably wants you to submit several recommendation letters written by different faculty members. Acquiring three recommendations is NO breeze, especially if you had online teachers.

Since I’m an online professor myself, I know exactly how you should approach them. Here’s my insider advice on getting strong recommendation letters.

Can You Get Letters of Recommendation from Online Professors?

A pen and a recommendation letter

Yes, you can get recommendation letters from online professors, although they never met you in person.

In essence, online classes aren’t that different from those held in a traditional classroom.

You still have to do the work and professors are still able to assess your progress.

You’ve got all the prerequisites to ask for a recommendation letter.

Will a Graduate School Accept a Letter from Online Courses?

Yes, a graduate school will accept a recommendation letter from online classes.

A grad school wants to see your recommendations to assess if you’re a good candidate. They don’t put so much weight on who wrote the letter. They care more about what the letter says.

If your teacher can convince them that they know you well, they won’t care about the fact that you didn’t attend in-person classes.

How to Ask a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation

A professor reading a document

Asking a teacher for a letter of recommendation is always nerve-wracking. Embarrassing even.

Many students are downright ashamed of asking for it. They feel like they’re forcing their teachers to evaluate them positively. .

But if you ask nicely, you can get a very good letter of recommendation and feel good about yourself. I’ll show you how with two email examples.

(You should be able to find your teacher’s emails in the faculty or staff directory.)

1st Example - If a Professor Knows You Well…

Have you been active during your online learning? By that I mean: have you raised your virtual hand in class? Have you submitted amazing papers and done all the coursework?

Then your teacher probably knows you well. You don’t need to beat around the bush. You can be direct in your request.

Example: 

Dear Teacher,

I hope you’re doing well.

I thoroughly enjoyed your class and I believe this was evident from my engagement during discussions. That’s why I thought you’d be the best person to assess my work ethic.

As you know, most graduate schools want students to submit letters of recommendation.

I was hoping you’d be willing to write me a letter. This would help me secure a seat at my dream university. (...)

2nd Example - If a Professor Doesn’t Know You Well…

Some students are shy and avoid speaking up in class. If you’re one of them, you might feel like teachers don’t know you well enough to give you good letters of recommendation.

First, keep in mind that you can always ask your academic advisor to connect you with a faculty member. Your advisor could make the whole process easy-peasy for you.

Second, you need to convince the teachers that you were genuinely interested in their class. Discuss what you liked about it and remind them of how good of a student you were.

Example: 

Dear Teacher,

I’ve been a student of yours in [name of the class]. You may not remember me. I’m one of the quieter students but I hope you haven’t taken this as a sign of disinterest.

In fact, I got a high grade on the final exam and you actually gave me positive feedback on my effort throughout the semester.

Since I really enjoyed your class, I was hoping you’d be willing to write a recommendation letter that I’d use on my grad school application. (...)

2 Steps to Getting a Strong Recommendation

Writing for an important document

You need to be aware of two things: teachers lead busy lives, and many need to be taught how to write good recommendation letters.

Since you’re asking them for letters on your behalf, it’s your job to take care of both of those things. You need to make the process as easy as possible. Here’s how.

1. Begin Early

You already know what teachers you want to ask for recommendations? Then get more involved asap.

Attend office hours, be active in your virtual classroom, and contact your teachers ahead of time [1].

In fact, you should ask them for their recommendations at least a month before your application deadline.

This will give them enough time to learn about the programs you want to attend so that they can include relevant information.

2. Give Your Professor Guidance

Many instructors don’t know how to write strong recommendation letters. Remember, they’re teaching professionals, not writing experts.

You can’t expect them to research how to write good recommendations. It’s you who needs their help to get into your dream programs, so you should give them all the resources they need.

Generally, you want to give them helpful suggestions on what to address and what to leave out in their letters.

My advice is to tell your teachers to refer to the two things every school cares about: 

  • Student’s performance.  How good of a student were you during the semester? Have you done any notable work on your faculty? Do you fit into an academic environment?
  • Classroom skills. Are you well-behaved in the classroom? Do you get along well with your classroom peers? Do you participate in discussions?

Remember: There’s More to Your Application

Signing a document

Besides recommendations from teachers, your school will be interested in your: 

  • Professional achievements related to your future career (e.g. notable research)
  • Standardized test scores
  • Resume
  • GPA

Wrapping Up

Some students who took digital courses for their undergraduate work find it difficult to ask for, let alone get recommendations.

But note that you don’t need three faculty members to form your recommendations. Instead of a faculty member, many students get their letters from their advisors and internship supervisors.

Make sure you discuss your plans with your chosen recommenders as early as possible. That way you won’t miss your deadlines for any programs you want to apply for.

Reference:

  1. https://gsas.nyu.edu/content/nyu-as/gsas/admissions/gsas-application-resource-center/faqs/letters-of-recommendation.html

About the author

William Cohen

William Cohen

William is an electrical engineer whose great passion is helping promising students achieve their goals and dreams. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise with aspiring learners from all over the world.

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