Sunday, August 22, 2010

Choosing Recommenders

Q. How do I choose my recommenders?

Choosing recommenders is often a trade off between how famous/reputed or senior the person is and how close the person is to you. Though recommendations from more senior persons (like professors or people with a PhD degree) usually are more impressive (than say from a lecturer who doesn't have a PhD), the closeness of the recommender to you will matter much more. Thus, your recommender could be a highly reputed person in the field you are applying to, but if his recommendation doesn't sound enthusiastic or personal enough (i.e. is too generic), that recommendation will not have a lot of value. It's always better to choose people who have interacted with you or supervised you closely over a considerable period of time, e.g. your final project advisor.

See section 3.5 of DAGAP for a more detailed discussion on this topic.


  1. I am a CS student. Can I get recommendation from our dean, who is a PHD holder from UT Austin , in material science. Is such a letter valid?

  2. Adding more to my previous comment , he is also really close to me.

  3. @ak You can, but the letter would have more weight if he has actually supervised your work or been an instructor in one of your courses (rather than just knowing you personally).

  4. Hi Karthik!

    Just came across your blog and the article on the stanford site too, it was an an excellent read. Thanks a ton for putting it up!

    I had one question which wasn't explicitly addressed there, so putting it up here: I'm applying for an MS for Fall '14, and I have 2 years of work experience in a relevant field.

    For my LoRs, would it weigh negatively on my application if I choose 2 bosses from my workplace and my major project guide from college? If the criterion for selecting my recommenders is plainly how well they know you, I think this mix would work better than choosing a second recommender from school who doesn't know me as well. Your thoughts on this?

    Thanks a ton again for the article!



  5. @anees

    Glad to hear that you found my document on graduate admissions helpful.

    For your particular case, yes this mix does make sense. Had you been within the first year of your new job, then I might have still suggested to go with 2 from school and 1 from industry. But with 2 years of work-ex, 2 industry recommendations is totally fine. Just make sure that they are talking about different projects, or even if about the same projects, at least different aspects of your work and skills, so that there is as little redundancy of information between the recos as possible.

  6. Hi Karthik,

    I have question on similar lines. I am 2003 passed out from NIT Calicut from CSE. I have recently started planning for MS. I have 10 yrs of experience in IT field. I have few queries.
    1) Is it now too late to think about MS?
    2) I will be a bit out of touch of the B Tech subjects. Will having B Tech knowledge fresh is advantageous for MS.
    3) Since it has been too long that I have passed from college. Will recommendation from college be applicable for me. Can I have all recommendations from my work.
    4) Does having more experiences increases the odds of clearing Phd course?

    Thanks for your guidance.

    1. @Astitava

      1) No, I saw quite a few people in the MS and PhD programs at Stanford (and am sure this is the case with other universities as well) who were coming back to academia after a long break in the industry.

      2) Certainly that is the case for some courses. Since the courses you take in MS might either be advanced versions of the same courses you took in BTech, or be something new, but still needing some of those BTech courses as prerequisites. So having that knowledge fresh in mind definitely helps. There's no dearth of MOOC courses these days, so you can use those to refresh your knowledge.

      3) All recommendations from work should be fine in your case.

      4) I'm not sure what you meant by "odds of clearing Phd course". Did you mean the odds of getting a PhD admission? Or having gotten admission, the odds of actually finishing the course? I think the answer to both depends on what kind of work experience you've. If it's a more research oriented experience, then it should help on both accounts. If it's a more software engineering and coding related experience, it won't necessary help you a lot in terms of PhD admission chances, but it can help you in "clearing the PhD course" in the sense that you'll have lesser difficulties in doing the coding that will be necessary as part of your research work.

    2. Thanks Karthik. Your response is very helpful.

  7. Hi, karthik. I am going to pass-out in 2014 from NITC. i am planning to do MS in CS. But, my UG is in ECE. I went through your 'changing branch' post and i did take some computer architecture courses. So, i thought of getting recommendation from the concerned professors. But, they told me to write a sample LOR and after that they are going to verify and correct it. They told they are busy with semester end exam and other meetings.

    The problem is i have no idea about a LOR. Any Advice?????

    1. @vineeth

      Writing your own recos is always a tricky situation to be in. See if you can convince them to write the recos themselves, but based on an outline of points you'd be providing. They can then add, remove or edit them as they like, but still write it in their own language. That would work better than you writing the whole reco yourself.

      Send me an email, if you want to discuss further. I can share my experience on getting recommendation letters at NITC. :)

  8. Hi Karthik
    I was wondering if you could go through my SOP.
    I need your opinion and it would be very helpful.
    And yes the blog is excellent!

    1. I'm glad that you found the blog helpful. Hope you've taken a look at the DAGAP article as well:

      As for going through your SOP, I'm currently already swamped with responding to emails and doing reviews for applicants enrolled in my Personal Admissions Counseling ( programme. If I find I've more time in a week or two, I'll let you know.

      All the best!

  9. Hi karthik
    Thank you for writing this blog. It was really helpful. I have a question that can I ask for a LoR from someone I know personally but the person is not a professor or a mentor of mine ??

    1. No, that won't have the same impact as a professional recommendation letter from someone who has worked with you in an academic/work setting. The recommendation letter is not just a character reference, but it instead talks in detail about your technical background and skills.

  10. What would the ideal recommendation letter length be?

  11. Hi Karthick ,
    I had a doubt regarding my LOR. I am currently having 3 years experience and applying for MS fall 2020. I am having a doubt about LOR. I am planning to take two LOR from workplace and one from college. But the one of the supervisors from my workplace who will be giving me LOR is now switching his job to another company. I have been closely working with him since three years. Can I still take the LOR from him even if he is not working for my current company?

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