Academic Reference: See How To Get It

Academic references are great credibility boosters and could be a game changer when applying for scholarships or grants. So, seeking to understand what it means and how you can get one is worthwhile.

An academic reference does not only help with scholarships and grant opportunities but can help you secure your dream job. The question however is what are the criteria for getting a reference and is it easy to get?

In this article, I will explain how to get an academic reference with practical examples that you can utilize.

What is an academic reference?

An academic reference or academic letter of recommendation is a statement that shows a person’s achievement and performance.

It is often written by an academic staff member for students or assistants to boost their chances of landing an opportunity.

Such opportunities include scholarships, study programs, grants, internships, and jobs. The reference is the person who helps in writing the letter that refers you to whatever opportunity you seek.

They could be your lecturers or professor who can attest to your strength and can talk about details like your grades, the quality of your research work, and other academic achievements.

Tips for choosing a suitable academic reference

If you need an academic letter of recommendation, it is important that you know how to get a good one.

Below are some tips to follow in your quest for an academic reference letter:

1. Select someone who is aware of your best academic achievements

When choosing an academic reference, think about those who are aware of your best performances. This could be a lecturer whose course you had your highest grade or your academic supervisor whom you impressed with your work.

These are people who can write the best reference letter for you. Perhaps you’re a research or teaching assistant, consider those who you had a good working relationship with.

2. Choose someone who knows you well

Another set of persons that can be your reference are educators who know you well. These are people whom you have a good personal relationship with and are able to say good things about you.

If you are part of a tutorial, your tutor can be a really great option for you. Another person to consider is a lecturer who you regularly check during office hours and have built a good rapport with.

If you’ve helped your lecturer or professor with a project or research or even something out of academics, they could also be of help when you need an academic reference.

3. Prioritize those with recent knowledge of your work

Once you’ve made a list of possible references, you should then place more importance on references that know about your recent achievements or performance.

For instance, your final-year research supervisor is aware of your recent work and can write a more profound reference letter than a lecturer who taught you in your first or second year.

In essence, select someone who you’ve communicated with recently instead of those you’ve not spoken with in a long time.

4. Choose someone who has notable achievements

Educators with solid professional backgrounds and reputations are great academic references.

If you have a relationship with someone who is a professor, is well-known in the academic community, has some notable publications to their name, or is a senior academic person, you should put them on top of your list.

5. Start early

Having pointed out how to get suitable references, it is important that you reach out to them early. If you wait till late before contacting your reference, you may be shooting yourself in the leg, especially if you have just one person in mind.

Even if you have a lot of references telling them early gives you time to follow up appropriately. A good time to start could be three months ahead of when you need the reference letter.

Example of an academic reference request

Below is a hypothetical letter sample of a graduating student you can model when requesting an academic reference:

October 28, 2022

James Liberty

56, Kings Street

Park Hall, WI 63431

(123) 358-2345

Professor George Thomas

Bridge College

141 Bridge Street

Station Road, WI 23357

Dear Professor George,

“I was pleased to be a part of your engineering class last semester and learned a lot. The class made me see engineering in a new light and increased my passion to continue a career in it. I was able to get a distinction in your course than to your practical and highly relatable teaching.

I am writing this letter to you hoping that you can write an academic reference for me. As you’ve seen, I have a strong interest in engineering and I believe that a solid academic reference from you would help in advancing my career.

I’m looking to be awarded a STEM scholarship from ASHRAE and have enclosed my essay to the scholarship committee as well as my cover letter. I’m also looking to consolidate my application by enclosing a summary of my achievements in your class and outside of academics.

I believe that this scholarship will help me in my lifelong dream of being a recognized petroleum engineer. Please let me know if you’re comfortable writing an academic reference letter for me.

The deadline for the ASHRAE scholarship application is on the 1st of January, 2023, so, I will be glad to get the reference hopefully next month. I would be more than happy to answer whatever questions you may have concerning the reference or the scholarship.

Thank you so much for your contributions toward my academics and for taking out time to review this request.


James Liberty”


Do you need references for a master’s degree?

Yes. Most master’s degree programs require an academic reference.

Can you get an academic reference letter after 8 years of graduation?

It may be difficult to get an academic reference letter after so long but you can replace that with a work reference letter from your employer or superior.

Who can write an academic reference for you?

Your lecturer, tutor, professor, project supervisor, school administrator, and guidance counselor.

Can you use a student as a reference?

No. An academic reference is someone who works in academia not your friend or relative.


Getting an academic reference has a lot of benefits. Whether you’re applying to college, or graduate school, looking to obtain a scholarship or financial aid, or trying to land a job, a reference letter can help you achieve your goal.

Considering the fact that a reference letter has to come from someone working in academia, you should begin to work towards building a good relationship with your lecturers, supervisor, or anyone who may be of help.

This way you can easily come up with a large list of people to help you when you need a reference letter. If you’re a shy person, you could read about how to build your communication skills here.

You should also take your academic work seriously and ace your courses so that instructors can notice you and warm up to you easily. You can read the article on how to learn better as a student to get help.

I hope this article helped. Thanks for reading.