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How to Choose Who to Ask

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Hi all,


The title says it all - who to ask? Is it better to ask someone who knows you well, or someone who is higher up (a colleague vs. the director of the non profit). or someone higher up vs someone who has that degree/knows that program? What about asking professors vs asking TAs? I have some professors I enjoyed but I'm not sure how much they would remember me, while there are a few TAs who knew me personally. 


So what qualities are most important when looking at who to ask? Thanks! 

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Generally, you want a combination of both knowing you and status/authority. Professors, advisors, and the like are the usual candidates, because they have experience in the field, know you somewhat well, and also know about your academic performance. I would say TAs are not a great option for letters.

You might try looking over this website for more details and ideas: http://gradschool.about.com/cs/askingforletters/a/recletter.htm

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for the feedback. I guess that's why they ask for three, so you can have a variety of all the characteristics I mentioned. Anyone else have any help on what characteristics to prioritize when choosing LOR writers?

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If applying for a PhD program, prefer letters from people with PhDs. Someone who doesn't have a PhD (=a TA, for example) can't really comment about your potential to succeed in a PhD program, since they've never been through one themselves and have not advised anyone who has. Sometimes you can ask to have your letter co-written by the professor and TA of a class, so you get both the perspective of the person who knew you better and the perspective of the person with authority.


Also, if applying for PhD programs, prefer letters from academics over ones from industry. If you have to mix, do two from academics and one from industry, or look into the possibility of having all 3 letters from professors and an additional supporting letter from a boss from an industry job.


If applying for a more applied program or a Masters, you could consider having more letters from industry or people who have the kind of job you'd like to have in the future. Anyone who can say something about your potential to carry out the job you are hoping to be trained for.


In general, prefer someone who knows you better over someone who doesn't, the reasons for that should be obvious. 


Also, prefer someone in a position of authority over a colleague. A letter from a colleague won't carry more weight than a letter from a friend or family member. You want a letter from someone who is in a position to evaluate your work and speak about it positively as it compares to others carrying the same role. A colleague is just not in that kind of position. Like above, you could look into having a letter co-signed by your direct supervisor and someone higher up, to combine the benefits of having types of perspectives in your letter.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Is it really that bad to get a letter for a Master's program from a grad student if they taught a summer course? Summer courses tend to be taught by grad students, not professors. The teacher would likely already have a Master's and be working toward a Ph.D. Is this really worse than getting a 3rd letter from industry, which many folks seem to do? This would also be a grad student at a school I'd be interested in applying to. I could probably get my 3rd letter from an undergrad professor I took 2 classes with (including a grad class) and TAed for twice, but this was in a different (but related) field and I haven't spoken to him in about 4 years.

Edited by velua
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