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Selecting Letters of Rec: Internship v. Paid Work

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It doesn't take much experience with letters of recommendation to know that most of them, inevitably, are written by some sort of friend, if not the applicant himself. They're fluff. I understand that academic references are usually the most valuable, partly because they're most credibly not hagiographies.

Where do letters from internships fall on this scale? I interned for an elected official in San Francisco for about 3 months, and am essentially weighing getting a letter from her vs. a professional reference, with whom I've worked for about 1 month. Which is more valuable? Are letters from unpaid internships given any credibility?

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I think you're being a little cynical and presumptuous about the value of recommendation letters. Not one of my referees is a "friend", and none asked me to write the letter for him. (I do personally know one person that the latter has happened to, but who gets their friends to write their letters? How does that even work?) Only one even went out of his way to ask me about what public policy schools value so that he could write me a "useful" letter.

The idea behind letters of rec is to have some third-party proof that you have done what you say you have, and that you can thrive in an academic/professional environment. It's a bad sign if you've been out of school for a few years and cannot find one person who can attest to your professional abilities.

That said, I think the value of the two referees you have proposed depends on:

A ) how closely you worked with the elected official and what your duties were - i.e. did you show up one day a week to make photocopies, receiving your assignments from a low-level staffer? Or did you work side-by-side with the politician 5 days/week doing research on policy issues? (There's obviously a lot in between, but you get the idea). I would also consider whether or not there is someone on staff who might be able to attest to your abilities better than the elected official (again, depending on what your duties were). Every admissions officer I've spoken with and every piece of advice I've read online says it's better to have someone who personally knows you write the letter than someone with a fancy title.

B ) what is your current job? One month is a very short period of time, and you would have had to make quite an impression for the letter to be great. But if the job is super-relevant to your policy interests, and you have excelled in your duties so far, then it might be a better choice, especially if the referee in Option A never got to know you.

Good luck! I know getting these letters can be difficult and/or awkward (I personally had a lot of trouble debating between two options for that tricky 3rd letter). And now I'm going to go back downstairs to have stilted conversations with my cousins. Happy Thanksgiving!

Edited by ridofme
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