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Been out of college for a few years


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I've been out of college for a few years, and have decided to pursue a PhD in the field which I'm now working in. I didn't major in this, but I did the equivalent of a minor, and a lot of people with my undergraduate background pursue graduate studies in this field. 

A major concern I have though is getting letters of recommendation. I've done a lot of research projects (including one supervised by two senior academics in this field), however, I'm applying to non-US programs that require coursework professors to provide recommendations in a set template (including checking boxes). There's not even the option of professional or research referees.

The classes in my current field were huge lectures and many academics have since left the university, so I would need to take professors from my major. However, I finished my coursework for my major four years ago, and even if professors remember me, I'm not sure they'll remember the nuances of my performance in their class. 

Has anyone requested references long after graduating? How did you go about this?

Also, though most of my upper-division classes were As, how would it look to take a reference from a professor who gave me an A-? I had a stronger relationship with her than most others. I was a sophomore taking a class geared for PhD students, not sure if that would make a difference. 

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This could be field dependent, but from the sounds of it the transition you're making isn't terribly dramatic, so here would be my advice. 

1) Ask the professors who are best able to speak to your qualities as a researcher and PhD candidate, regardless of field. The LORs are a way of adding human texture to your academic application, and your knowledge of the field should shine through in your SOP. Remember: every part of every application doesn't have to paint a full picture, they just have to complement each other in a way that makes your application more than the sum of its parts. 

2) An A- is definitely fine. I had taken one of my referees for three courses -- two A's and a B-,  my lowest UG grade. I can't know for sure, but I think having him write a recommendation actually helped make up for the low grade in a sense. "Well, the guy who saw him at his worst still has glowing positive remarks," kind of thing. This is of course predicated on a glowing LOR, which sounds like what you would get. 

3. Work with your referees to help tell a shared narrative. Obviously you can't have a hand in drafting them, that's unethical at best, but highlight why you are selecting them, what you got out of the relationship, what your goals are, and your CV. 

4. It sounds like you're an incredibly capable student. This is an uncomfortable part of the process, but you'll be fine. Just give them plenty of time, keep on them, and worry about what you can control!

Edited by makingtheleap.back
Typo, wrote on phone
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After the introductory pleasantries, I'd just tell them why they were important to you as an undergrad, what your plan is (keep it short), and what you believe they can speak to in terms of a LOR. I'd attach a CV or Resume, and also let them know you'd be able to send a draft of your Statement of Purpose if they would like. Keep it to the point, not too saccharine or over-the-top, and trust these things work out the way they do for a reason (though that could probably be said for the whole admissions process!). 

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