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The Who, What and When of Letters of Recommendation

If you’re not sure if they know who you are, go ahead and scratch that name off the list.

The Art of Sucking Up

If you’re not sure if they know who you are, go ahead and scratch that name off the list.

By Olivia W. McCoy, University of Georgia

So the last four torturous years of your young adult life are almost up, and as you take a well-deserved gasp of air during the break from the otherwise suffocation of school and deadlines, you have a soul crushing epiphany: this is just the beginning.

Grad school is approaching.

Between the madness of scrambling to get the application in and copy down some bullshit for the required essay portion, it’s easy to get carried away and forget the most important part: The Letters of Recommendation.


The process of selecting the correct professor to suck up to should not be something you begin your final year of college as you’re applying to grad schools. This should be something you’ve been working on since before that greasy, innocent, beautiful teenage hope was beaten out of you by the callous, cruel, cutthroat academia that you so naively volunteered for.

The moment that acceptance letter falls into your oily hands your senior year of high school, the hunt begins.

The Who, What and When of Letters of Recommendation

First, there’s registration, where is your new best friend and you scour the web for the perfect subject for your scientifically successful suck-up strategies. Remember, the class is only as good as the teacher that is susceptible to pleads for project extensions. But who to dedicate the next four to five months of your life to?

They must have good but not excellent ratings on the aforementioned website. This is because you want them to be generous and understanding, but not so undemanding and magnanimous that every bright-eyed, bushy-tailed benevolent comes to him/her for their own purposes. If that’s the kind of teacher you reach out to, then prepare for a standard, run-of-the-mill letter of recommendation, because they will be cranking those puppies out like there’s no tomorrow come application season.

They must know your name. As in, you actually have to show up to this class and put in a decent amount of effort in participation. I know I know, but that class is SO pointless and you might as well just stay home and get better grades looking this shit up on the internet.

BUT THAT’S THE POINT, my productively lazy friend. No one will want to show up and pay attention, so when you do put in the minimal amount of effort possible to get away with an easy A, then they will be practically licking your feet in gratitude.

They must have the ability to actually write. Take a good look at your syllabus. How comprehensive is that formidable form? If you can read through it, not find any typos and understand what each mentioned assignment is, then this teach can stay in the running.


Alright, so you’ve picked the victim for your unrelenting affections and so now let the exertions begin.

Introduce yourself after the first day of class. Keep in mind all those eye roll inducing-respect speeches that your parents told you as you were growing up, because for the first time in your life, those tips will actually come in handy. Firm handshake, moderate introduction and the cherry on top is to sound genuinely interested in the class, but not so intrigued that you come off as creepy and commandeering.

It is completely acceptable to stalk these people in this situation. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Myspace if they’re old enough—use whatever tools you have to get the goods. Find out their favorite books and casually carry them into class with you. Leave them on your desk for the entirety of class, and if they still haven’t noticed and the lecture is coming to a close, then feel free to “accidentally” knock it off your desk and pick it up with a flourish.

Note: When you decide to try this trick out, be sure to at least read the SparkNotes for a couple chapters in case they ask about it. How embarrassing would it be otherwise?

Take note of their favorite movies, and if at all possible, weave some of the plot line into your arguments in class.

“As taboo as incest is, we can see in the original ‘Star Wars’ that the act is not as offensive as originally thought. This can be proven through the ticket sales and popularity of the series alone. If incest were REALLY that bad, would we let our kids wear Luke and Leia costumes on Halloween?” (Speaking of which, why the heck do we do that? That’s nasty.)

Run into them in the halls as if it were an ABSOLUTE coincidence and ask a question or two about an assignment. I don’t care if you’ve already completed it or you know that shit backwards and forwards, the fact that you asked will say that you care, even if you don’t.

Office hours are a must. They’re boring and unnecessary for the most part yes, but teachers get lonely too and the company will be exhilarating, even if all you do is discuss the proper formatting of a research paper or go over the two questions you missed on the last exam.

Note #2: Be very careful not to come off as a grade grubber. Those students that come in to grasp at those few lost points on a test they otherwise got an A+ on are the worst and you WILL be marked on the Do-Not-Interact list they have hidden away in their desk.

When it finally comes down to your asking them for that golden letter that you’ve been surreptitiously setting up for the past four years, go in confidentially and don’t rush through all those niceties. Mention an anecdote from their class, lure them into a false state of security, and then pounce when they least expect it. They’ll never see it coming.


The timing of the ask is just as essential as choosing the correct person. You want to bring it to their attention while they still have the option to procrastinate a little on it, but not so early that it’s hanging over their head on a beach in Florida this summer. Have some decency, kid.

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