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Who to Ask for Recommendations?


dally

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Hi all-

New to the forum, but reading people post about pulling their hair out is already stressing me out!!

I will be applying this year to master's programs in Urban Planning and am struggling to decide who to ask for recommendation letters. I am not a recent grad, at least not recent enough that my professors will remember enough to write me an outstanding letter...which is of course what I want :) I have a great GPA and GRE scores above average, but no experience in the field, so I'm thinking my letters will be important.

I have bosses that I am planning on asking. One I am quite close with and am excited about his letter, but I still don't know who else to ask. I'm very confused on what admissions committees are looking for (i.e. someone with power or someone who just knows you).

So my question is: who did you ask to write your letters besides professors?

My options are:

A - My supervisor, the CFO, who knows my work ethic and abilities but doesn't know ME that well and probably has no idea I'm even interested in planning.

B - The head boss, who is extremely friendly and would say good things (also has a big name and quite possibly influence) but is not around all that often so may not be able to be too specific about me.

C - Another co-worker/supervisor, who knows me and my abilities pretty well but is very young (32).

D - Another co-worker/supervisor, who knows me and my abilities REALLY well but doesn't have a great job title to follow her name (although she is much more, her job title is "executive liaison").

Thanks so much in advance for your reply, I am so confused!!!

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Hi all-

New to the forum, but reading people post about pulling their hair out is already stressing me out!!

I will be applying this year to master's programs in Urban Planning and am struggling to decide who to ask for recommendation letters. I am not a recent grad, at least not recent enough that my professors will remember enough to write me an outstanding letter...which is of course what I want :) I have a great GPA and GRE scores above average, but no experience in the field, so I'm thinking my letters will be important.

I have bosses that I am planning on asking. One I am quite close with and am excited about his letter, but I still don't know who else to ask. I'm very confused on what admissions committees are looking for (i.e. someone with power or someone who just knows you).

So my question is: who did you ask to write your letters besides professors?

My options are:

A - My supervisor, the CFO, who knows my work ethic and abilities but doesn't know ME that well and probably has no idea I'm even interested in planning.

B - The head boss, who is extremely friendly and would say good things (also has a big name and quite possibly influence) but is not around all that often so may not be able to be too specific about me.

C - Another co-worker/supervisor, who knows me and my abilities pretty well but is very young (32).

D - Another co-worker/supervisor, who knows me and my abilities REALLY well but doesn't have a great job title to follow her name (although she is much more, her job title is "executive liaison").

Thanks so much in advance for your reply, I am so confused!!!

You really should have at least one or two letters from professors, because graduate schools usually don't take letters from people outside of academia as seriously. This does vary by field and I don't know how urban planning feels about this, but you should try to find out. Even if you graduated a long time ago, you could contact your old professors and remind them of you by giving them copies of work you did back then. They might still be willing to write you letters. If not, you might consider taking a couple of non-degree graduate courses so you could get LORs from those professors. That would also show programs that you are applying to that you can do graduate level work.

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Schools generally require 3 letters and at least 2 from professors. I would suggest start trying to see if you could work in a lab and get to know professors that way. I'm in a totally different field so your case may be a little different but I would not recommend getting all your letters from co-workers. Academia is a small field and professors, especially in a particular field of research tend to be familiar with each others work so a great letter from a professor could make a difference.

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Yes, My advice will also be trying to find academics to write a letter, or at least people who were involved in academia for sometime.

A professor of mine once advised me to try to get LoR from people who have achieved a Ph.D. or at least a master's degree, this specially because only someone who has gone through graduate school can have some idea of what your aptitudes are that will help you go through grad school. If you know someone at work holding a Ph.D while working in Industry, his/her LoR could be quite useful. However, again, try to look for professors and academics, their LoRs would probably be much more effective.

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I was told by my advisor that the only letters that adcoms take seriously are those from other professors (I wanted a GA to write a LoR for me but was advised to make her a supplementary recommendation instead). I would really suggest that you figure a way to get a professor to write you a LoR -- it is totally fine to contact your old professors, especially if you did really well in their classes, and ask them to write one for you. I would e-mail the professors and ask: 1. if you could drop off a packet of your old work, tests, SoP, and grades, and 2. If you could meet with them in person to discuss how you did in their class and why you want a LoR from them. By doing this I'm sure that (since you were a good student) a meeting will jog their memory of how you were in class. Also, meeting with them will also give you the opportunity to tell, or at least hint to, them what you want them to say in your LoRs.

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Thanks for your replies.

I read an article a while back stating that professional programs put more weight on professional recommendations, and although every other piece of information tends to point in the opposite direction I was really hoping that the first was true.

Based on your replies, I decided to give an old professor a try, thinking there was no way she would remember me, and LO and BEHOLD she does remember my work, and even a specific project I did in her class, and would love to help me out....so thanks for giving me the push to make that awkward phone call!!

I'll try to think of other academia contacts to try...

Thanks again!!

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One more question for you seasoned vets...

One of my bosses (who I do independent work for and also write for on occasion) that I am very close with holds an MA, PhD, and JD. He is familiar with the quality of my academic work because we talked often about school while I was still attending, and he used to teach at a university though only practices law right now. Do you think admissions committees would see him as an academic reference even though I never took any classes from him?

Thanks again!

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One more question for you seasoned vets...

One of my bosses (who I do independent work for and also write for on occasion) that I am very close with holds an MA, PhD, and JD. He is familiar with the quality of my academic work because we talked often about school while I was still attending, and he used to teach at a university though only practices law right now. Do you think admissions committees would see him as an academic reference even though I never took any classes from him?

Thanks again!

Depends on the admissions committee, however as I told you on my last post, if he has a PhD it will probably be much better than any other co-worker. Also, since he was in academics for a while, his opinion could be relevant for the admissions guys...

However, this is just my humble opinion, I would love to hear what others have to say about this...

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Depends on the admissions committee, however as I told you on my last post, if he has a PhD it will probably be much better than any other co-worker. Also, since he was in academics for a while, his opinion could be relevant for the admissions guys...

However, this is just my humble opinion, I would love to hear what others have to say about this...

Exactly what I was gonna say, actually.

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I think if you haven't already, look at the program's website to see what they say about this. Some programs say if you've been out of school for 5+ years (or something similar) that work related references are acceptable. I'm sure they understand that not all students go to graduate school straight out of undergraduate coursework.

With that said, I would definitely ask someone who is familiar with your work ethic, ability to complete tasks, etc. (like a supervisor as you mentioned). You could always set up a meeting to discuss your plans, how this degree would help your career, etc. It's a slippery slope b/c what if they are not ok with you leaving? Or, would you be planning on staying w/the company during/after?? But, if someone who is supervising you can speak to your qualities, I think that would help a lot.

I agree with contacting a previous professor and showing them your CV, work sample, etc.

I would even contact the program you are applying to and ask them what they are looking for in terms of references. It will show that you are truly interested and that you understand the competition and want to stand out!

Good luck and this is just my opinion, of course.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Thanks for your replies.

I read an article a while back stating that professional programs put more weight on professional recommendations, and although every other piece of information tends to point in the opposite direction I was really hoping that the first was true.

This may well be true, but it is dependent on the discipline. It is certainly true in my own field (library science), a letter from a practicing librarian is just as credible as one from a professor. Urban planning may or may not be the same, but I would check with the programs you want to apply to and see rather than just assume.

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Depends on the admissions committee, however as I told you on my last post, if he has a PhD it will probably be much better than any other co-worker. Also, since he was in academics for a while, his opinion could be relevant for the admissions guys...

However, this is just my humble opinion, I would love to hear what others have to say about this...

This sounds right. Of course, I know even less about applying for a professional degree than I know about applying for an academic degree--which is saying something, since I'm currently embarking on my first time applying for an academic degree. But I have solid, well-versed, and intimidatingly successful advisers, and I can practically hear them saying what djrg said above . . . but then again, they'd be advising me specifically for an academic degree . . .

Round and round in circles we go. Gwydion's suggestion about asking is a good one. It's the only way you'll get an actual answer, not a cross-your-heart-hope-not-to-die answer.

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