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No one to ask for academic LOR


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I want to apply to an M.Ed. program, and my co-teacher (I'm teaching English abroad) will write me an LOR. (I need 3, at least one work experience, and at least one academic.) But the academic one, I have no idea where to get it. I did 2 years at a community college and 2 years at the same university where I want to go for the M.Ed. But I wasn't close with any professors at the second university at all; they would never remember me and I never had the same professor for 2 classes.


To get this job teaching abroad I had a teacher from my community college, and another teacher who had taught me both in high school and the community college, write letters for me. But the latter teacher (high school and CC) has since retired I believe. And the former, it's been 5 years since he had me in class.


Is this going to look terrible that no one from the university where I got the BA and where I'm applying for the M.Ed. will write me a letter? And is it okay to ask the same CC teacher (he was my English teacher, for one class, and that's not my education specialization) to write another letter, after 5 years?


I'm not even sure where I could get the 3rd letter I need. This ESL job has been my only job since graduating in 2011. I was a nontraditional undergrad student and graduated at 27. I was shy so I didn't speak to my professors much.


Sorry this post has so many questions. I'm starting to panic a bit. I asked a professor from my CC if she would write me an LOR (she was my German teacher for 2 classes) and she said "no." She said she couldn't remember me from 5 years ago and she can't write LORs because of FERPA anyway.


I feel so confused and I don't want to put off my application for another year.

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Contact your former letter writers from the CC to inquire about a letter. They might still agree to write even though it's been a while. At the same time, the best thing you can do is start reaching out to professors at the program you're applying to. Start with those who you took a class with, and if there are many start with those you think you'll also get to work with in the future. Briefly explain your situation and ask for their advice about getting a letter. Some of them will end up being on the admissions committee this year or will have been on one in the past and they will know what kind of letters you need to get. If they don't remember you but you took their class, try and set up a meeting with them (if you are in the same city) and get advice in person. Or set up a phone meeting. Talk to them about your plans, show them any papers you wrote, ask if they will write you a letter. I realize they didn't know you for very long and might not remember you but it sounds like you're out of good options and really getting a letter from someone in the program you're applying too will help your case tremendously. You might have been shy but even if not, 5 years is a long time and you have a legitimate reason to need to remind them who you are. Many professors realize this situation and will be willing to help, so you should try. For the CC teachers and for the professors from this program too, offer to help them write the most informative letter they can -- offer to provide them with any documents that they need, talk about your interests and future plans, what you've been doing since college, etc. Basically, be proactive, because you don't have many options and you need to make the ones you have work as best you can. 

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I'll leave the nitty gritty of approaching people for letters to others, but I'll make a few points.


The first is that you absolutely should not get a letter from a "co-worker" as you've described in this and other threads. Recommenders should be those in senior positions who are able to make informed comments about your performance. I would imagine in teaching, this would mean a principle or head of department/faculty/area/what have you. A random teacher who you happen to know is not a good candidate. If you've already realised this and your "co-teacher" is actually in a position of authority over you, never mind.


The second is that you should probably try to get all your academic references from your 4-yr college rather than your community college. This is because the identity and reputation of your recommenders matters. This is not to say that such people don't exist in community colleges, but they are significantly rarer. Considering it sounds like you'd be trying to get anyone who would be willing to write you a letter from the CC rather than top people from it, I really wouldn't take the chance if I were you.


The third is that you need to apply to more than one university for your masters to have a decent chance of admission. I don't know about teaching specifically, but grad school admissions in general are very competitive. Realistically, you're not in the greatest position for the one school also. Many schools actively make a point of not accepting students into grad school if they have completed undergrad at that school. This forum is full of people who applied solely to their undergrad school thinking they'd be a shoo-in and applying elsewhere wasn't necessary, only to be rejected outright. This is even more important for you as someone who didn't interact with many professors at the school. This is because you don't have people who'll fight tooth and nail for your admission, and (more importantly) you'll also be fighting the perception that "if you were any good (e.g. worthy of admission), the professors would already know you".


This is not to be all doom and gloom. You'll likely find that professors from your 4-yr college are willing to write you recommendations if you provide them with all the details necessary as fuzzylogician mentioned above, simply because it's part of what they've come to expect. Applying to schools different to your undergrad will also increase your chances dramatically.

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Thank you for all the advice fuzzylogician. I think that I probably could get a couple of my CC teachers to write the letters. As far as my university professors being "in the program" I'm now applying to, I don't think they are. My undergrad was in foreign language and now I'm applying for a Master's in Education. I don't think the foreign language teachers teach the education classes.


Also I can't really make an appointment with them as I'm living abroad.


Arcanen, I am having my co-teacher write the letter as she's the only one who has seen me with the students. My principal and vice principal do not speak any English, and don't know me at all. I didn't realize that about people being less likely to be accepted to graduate programs at their alma maters. That's disappointing to hear.


I may just put in an application at this program anyway. I don't see myself going to any other program. I don't want it badly enough to apply to every university around. But if I could go back to my alma mater and finish this program in 2 years, it would be great. I know I can be a good teacher.

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Arcanen, I am having my co-teacher write the letter as she's the only one who has seen me with the students. My principal and vice principal do not speak any English, and don't know me at all.


You have plenty of time to get to know such people before application season arrives. You say your undergrad was in foreign language, does that mean you speak the language they speak? As long as you can start a dialogue at this point, and make a point of outlining what you're trying to do, you may well get to know them well enough by the time you actually apply. What about the head of the department you work in? If they haven't seen you teach... ask them to watch you teach >_<.


With regard to the alma matter lack of recommenders thing, it should matter as much as I said (I did not realise you were applying to a different department for grad school). It'll still work against you to a degree though.


But I don't think any of this is relevant anyway, because...


I may just put in an application at this program anyway. I don't see myself going to any other program. I don't want it badly enough to apply to every university around. But if I could go back to my alma mater and finish this program in 2 years, it would be great. I know I can be a good teacher.


if you don't want grad school and/or the career opportunities it will give badly enough to apply to or attend schools different to your alma matter, you shouldn't be applying to grad school at all. Grad school is tough work and expensive, and I don't think anyone would recommend it for someone with such uncertainty (especially if "expensive" means going into massive debt).


Do you actually want to do the masters degree at all? Or are you just unhappy with your current path and want to go back to the area, friends and life you had during undergrad? If it is the latter, you could always try moving back to the area where your alma matter is located and look for work. Because grad school may not be for you, not right now at least (things could certainly change in the future, and you might become much more certain about what you want to do).

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Thanks for the additional advice Arcanen.


Unfortunately my major was French and they all speak Korean. And my VP has seen me teach only once; his letter would be written in Korean, if he would even be willing to write one. Plus I think they prefer the 3 letters of recommendation to be 2 academic, 1 professional.


I know how that sentence sounds "I don't want it badly enough." I guess what I mean is, I have to admit that I am sensitive to my surroundings. I think that my alma mater is a great university and a good learning environment for me. I have no experience at another university and I don't want to risk ending up somewhere that I dislike immensely, especially when so much money is on the table. Also this M.Ed. program is just a great fit for me: I like the time frame, and that it leads to initial teacher certification, and that it won't require a GRE. Maybe that makes me sound lazy about the GRE, but I have to study the language to pass another test and don't have time to study extra months for the GRE. So this program makes sense to me.


I'm glad to hear that the lack of LOR from the university won't matter quite as much since it's a different department. As I said I might still try to apply. I would really like to teach French as well as TESOL. After finishing this program I could obtain a TESOL endorsement too. I will keep thinking about it. Thanks. :)

Edited by nb42
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  • 2 weeks later...

Could you do volunteer work in Korea once a week or get a second part time job at a place that has an English speaking superior who could write you a LOR? You could try to work/volunteer as a teaching assistant at a university in exchange for a LOR for grad school. Academics are very likely to have at least a working knowledge of English and they will have the academic background that admissions committees are looking for. 


I agree that grad school should not be decided upon on a whim as it will be a great investment in terms of time, money and resources - more difficult and time consuming than your undergraduate studies.

Edited by jenste
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