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Strong Professional vs. Average Academic Letter

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As background information, I am planning to apply for master's programs in Computer Science and do not plan to move on to a PhD.

After several years of drifting, I am finally on track to graduate this Spring. However, my program is completely online. I am doing research this summer so I will have a letter from that, but my other two will likely have to be from professor's I've interacted with only online. That said, I am a good and active student so I wouldn't expect these letters to be bad, per se, but given that classes are only 8 weeks long and the courses are online, I wouldn't expect these professors to be able to write the strongest letters either. I have a previous employer who I worked with for several years who would undoubtedly write me a very strong recommendation, but the work was in a completely unrelated field.

So basically my question is: do I stick with 2 possibly mediocre academic letters in my field of study, or replace one with a very strong professional letter in a field unrelated to my field?

Edited by legoac
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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm applying for MS CS courses too this coming application round. I've been out of university for three years now, and so getting more than one academic reference will be tricky. I've emailed several of the departments that I plan to apply to and they say that it is not a problem if I only have one strong academic letter.

I think it's better to go for whatever makes your application strongest - I'm going for two professional (current and previous employer) and one academic (dissertation supervisor).

(Anecdote: I applied last year with good GRE scores, a reasonable transcript and SoP. Two of my letters were written by academics and one of those I'm certain was weak (I received emails when he started and finished writing the letter. He spent less than 15 minutes on my letter and forgot to submit it to one of the universities in time. I didn't get a single admit.))

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