Alternate letters of recommendation?
March 11, 2010 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Looking to go to grad school but graduated in 2007. Who else can I ask for letters of recommendation besides professors?

I'm interested in going to grad school for education in my area (Philly). I graduated from Richmond with a degree in International Relations and a minor in History. Only problem is I don't think any of my professors remember me well enough to provide a decent letter of recommendation. Who else could give me letters that would hold weight in the application process?

I do have friends that are teachers (middle and high school). I'd like to teach at a high school or college level.
posted by assasinatdbeauty to Education (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Recs from employers are fine, too, but try to get at least one academic rec, even if it's not your strongest letter. Recs from personal friends will not carry much weight.
posted by devinemissk at 6:40 AM on March 11, 2010

Don't send letters of recommendation from friends - that looks terrible. If you need two letters, get a stellar one from your employer and one from a former professor. (I did this successfully for my grad school application.) You can approach the latter by sending an email saying: I am applying for this program, I really adored your class(es) and would very much appreciate a letter of recommendation. To refresh your memory, here is a paper I wrote for class X (and attach the paper to the email).
posted by meerkatty at 6:59 AM on March 11, 2010

Seconding that you really need to get at least one from a professor. You might be surprised how well your professors remember you. I graduated in 2004, and was able to get strong recommendations when I applied two years ago. Use your email to remind them which of their classes you took, what grades you received, what papers you wrote for them, and if you gave any special presentations or anything like that. Did you write a thesis or complete any kind of senior project? If so, the person who supervised that would be a great reference.
posted by dizziest at 7:05 AM on March 11, 2010

A non-standard letter of recommendation needs to stand out for positive reasons rather than just for its non-standard-ness. In other words, if the only thing notable about the letter is that it's from an employer instead of a professor, then you lose. But if it's notable because it's so detailed and stellar and oh yeah it happens to be from an employer, great.

You don't say where you've been working or what you've been up to. Your case will not be helped if a letter from your boss says stuff like "always on time" or "never called in sick" or irrelevant things like that. Try to make sure a non-academic letter is focused on things that the grad school committee will relate to and find relevant: initiative, leadership, focus, intellectual contributions; in the specific case of education, perhaps training others, or working with youth, etc

Good luck!
posted by secretseasons at 7:26 AM on March 11, 2010

I think profs and maybe an employer--if the work you've been doing is related to what you'll be studying in grad school, or in some other way highlights that you're a responsible and capable person--are all that will hold any weight in this situation.

Approach profs in whose classes you did well. Do this in person--don't text them or anything like that. They might not remember you right off the bat. They might ask that you provide copies of papers you wrote in their classes, for instance, to be reminded of the quality of your work. These samples will help the prof with the decision to write or not write a letter for you. And they'll be a useful reference when he/she does sit down to write it.

Your alma matter should have academic advisors available to you to help you understand these sorts of things. Get in touch with your advisor from back when you were in school, if you remember him or her, or contact the International Relations department and tell them you're thinking of going to grad school and want to talk with someone about it.
posted by wheat at 7:32 AM on March 11, 2010

It would be helpful to know what you've been doing since you graduated; we don't have much to work with here.

I agree that you need a prof's recommendation letter and that you should send a nice email including a copy of something you wrote for the prof to jog their memory. If you're really concerned about making a personal impression, you could offer to meet with them in their office to talk about your goals so they have a better sense of what to say in the letter. (You could come up with an excuse for why you were going to travel there anyway -- to see old friends.) Taking a short trip from Philadelphia to Richmond would be well worth it if it strengthens your grad school app.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:33 AM on March 11, 2010

Response by poster: Getting a recommendation from an employer is difficult since due to the economy I was laid off last march and have been unable to get employment yet (not for lack of trying, there's just nothing out there that pays enough to enable me to sustain normal life expenses in this area). Previously I was in finance for only 9 months before they did layoffs, and before that an inside sales position that was not ideal at all.

My computer died recently and I was unable to recover any files, so I don't have anything to send to profs to jog their memory as far as papers go.
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 8:08 AM on March 11, 2010

Any professional contacts -- if not former employers, former colleagues. Are you involved in any work with children, e.g. coaching, tutoring, girl scouts, etc? Anyone involved with you in stuff like that would also be a good source for a reference.
posted by tastybrains at 8:29 AM on March 11, 2010

First thing: if you want to teach at a college level, graduate schools of education are useless unless you want to teach education. If you want to teach a substantive subject at the college level, what you need is a PhD in the subject (or in some fine arts fields an MFA).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:44 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not that unusual for a professor to receive a request to write a recommendation for a student who graduated a few years previously. It is unusual to receive a graduate school application from a student who graduated within the last few years but has no recommendations from an academic source. If I were reviewing an application from someone who graduated in 2007, they would have to provide an extremely good reason to justify not having any academic recommendations.

You should follow the advice of wheat and others and contact professors. If you can't give them copies of papers, include as much information as possible about yourself to jog their memory. Seriously, a brief recommendation stating that you got an A in someone's class - even if it isn't completely glowing - is better than none in this case.
posted by googly at 8:45 AM on March 11, 2010

Hmm. OK. Other ideas:

Become a substitute teacher or a volunteer at a nearby school. Make an impression on people. Ask for letters next fall if that goes well.

Write to the department manager/secretary at an ed school that you are interested in. Explain that you are interested in getting back into school but you've been out of the field, and ask if you can meet with a faculty person (hopefully someone involved in admissions). If/when you get the meeting, do your homework, know about the dept, etc (in other words don't sit like a lump in their office with Qs like "so, tell me about the program"). If this meeting seems to go well, bring up your letters-of-reference issue and see what advice this professor has. Perhaps if things go really well you may end up with an "in" -- a research project you can get involved in, a student-teaching gig, something, that will lead to you naturally being admitted next year (with the professor's recommendation).

Again, good luck!
posted by secretseasons at 8:51 AM on March 11, 2010

Argh, I posted before I meant to.

IAAP. Here is what I think you should do.

Send several old profs an email along these lines:

Dear Prof. Wossname,

I hope this finds you well. I'm a 2007 graduate who took CLASS from you in YEAR, where I earned a GRADE, and was hoping that you'd be willing to write me a letter of recommendation to EDUCATION SCHOOLS for REASON.

If you feel comfortable writing a letter on my behalf, I'd be happy to talk to you about what my plans are and why I want to pursue graduate education in education, what my goals are, and discuss my performance in your course or anything else that would help you easily write a letter for me. Unfortunately, I lost all my college papers in a computer crash, but I think I can recall what the papers I wrote for you were about.

All best,


The profs should have enough records of your performance to be able to write you a letter. Or at least, you should be able to find 3 or 4 who do.

Approach profs in whose classes you did well. Do this in person--don't text them or anything like that.

No no no nononononono. Email them. Not in person, not phone call. Email. And put "Request for recommendation from 2007 grad" in the subject line.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:55 AM on March 11, 2010 [6 favorites]

Strongly seconding ROU_Xenophobe that you should absolutely not approach them in person first. They may not recognize you immediately, and this will only be embarrassing for both of you. Plus, email gives them a chance to consider your whole request before they reply. Plus, it's less intrusive. Do offer to meet with them in person later (office hours is exactly the right time to do this), but don't just show up without telling them you're going to!
posted by dizziest at 9:20 AM on March 11, 2010

I nth the suggestion that you need to get recommendations from a professor. Schools want to make sure you can successfully complete the academic portions of their program, this helps address this. Oh, and when you do contact your references I recommend following this advice (from someone who has been asked to do letters many times).
posted by Tallguy at 9:25 AM on March 11, 2010

If you're going for a research-y degree (especially a PhD), letters from employers are going to do almost nothing for you unless your employer is a research firm.

2007 isn't that long ago. Many would argue that if you were a good enough student, a professor should remember you. If this isn't the case, can you take an extension course or something (particularly in the field that you're trying to get into) to get a more recent letter of rec?

And nth-ing to email professors as per ROU_X's template.
posted by k8t at 9:44 AM on March 11, 2010

You need prof letters, as everyone says. 2007 is not that long ago. If you did good work I'd remember you. But when you request send a copy of the best paper you wrote in the prof's class and maybe a few words describing your contributions in class. Also send a copy of your transcript (unofficial is fine), and a draft of your application essay.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:35 AM on March 11, 2010

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