I applied for a PhD program in 2017 and got rejected. I’m preparing to apply again in 2018.

Could a professor who gave me a recommendation letter last year refuse to do so again? If so, why, and how could I approach this issue? Is there any unwritten rule regarding how long a referee will provide a reference for a student?

I’m about to start a 5th year Master’s program in CS at my university (one extra year after B.S. for a M.S.). I’ve also been looking at applying to grad schools for a PhD program, and the main thing that I’ve been worried about is recommendation letters.

I know one professor somewhat well (took two classes with her, one of which was a project class where I presented to her) and I think she would be willing to write a rec letter. However, she’s fairly well known in her field and I don’t know if that makes it harder to get a rec from her.

But, most of the colleges I’m looking at for grad school need three letters. I’ve had good grades throughout my undergrad, mostly 3.9 and 4.0s. Because I was fairly comfortable with my classes, I rarely went to office hours. As a result, I don’t think any of the professors who’ve taught me know anything about me other than that I was in their class and that I did well.

I’m totally unsure now about how to proceed. Is it normal for professors to be asked for rec letters by students they only maybe recognize? Do they usually say yes or no? What are my options?

I’ve finished my undergraduate studies 4 years ago. I was considering applying for masters, but due to passage of time it would be difficult to get any letters of recommendation. Since I’m a programmer, I thought there might be some research projects which need programming help. There I could help with in exchange for a letter of recommendation (as per this question, it does not seem to be unethical).

This question is quite similar the the one here, the main difference being: I’m also interested in any other suggestions, on how one can work with any academic staff capable of giving recommendation letters, for example some kind of 6 months-1 year online courses (is it possible to get recommendation by completing coursea programs or similar? Maybe some universities offer peparatory programs for masters, where one can try to get recommendation?)

In Europe, we judge students based on their work and abilities. How are their grades? Do they have relevant work experience (TA/RA, maybe part-time industry work, etc)? What projects have they done? What courses have they taken? And of course the odd recommendation letter is always a nice bonus.

We expect students to write up a summary of all these things (it’s called a resumé) upon which they are to be judged, and further detailed inquiry can then be made during a possible interview process.

However, as I understand it, it seems to be quite different in the USA. Reference letters is all that matters. Be a mediocre student, but have a good friendship with Professor Abstract Algebra? You’re as good as made. Be a fantastic student, but be a bit shy or having done most of your work independently of the professors? Tough luck.

I am particularly bemused by so many of the questions on this very site where professors come to talk about awkward situations where they are being forced to write a recommendation letter for some student that they don’t even know. Who the heck is Robert James? I lecture to hundreds of students, for Christ’s sake!

Or when you in turn get students here asking for questions about how to approach a professor they’ve spoken very little to all year and ask them to write a recommendation letter.

And yes, I get it. One day, one time, you’ll get a fantastic reference letter from a professor who actually knows and has worked with a particular student, and that reference letter will give you a better understanding of the capabilities and experiences of this student. I get that. But that’s only part of the whole process here in Europe: That’s the bonus I mentioned in my first paragraph, but we don’t make it our everything. We realize that some people might get luckier with recommendation letters than others.

So why do Americans put so much weight on recommendation letters?

I have recently developed an interest in a hot topic of computer science and I would like to pursue a master’s degree in that topic.
Looking at the available grad school programs and their admissions process they all (very understandably) require recommendation letters.

The issue is that I graduated 6 years ago and not expecting to ever need a recommendation letter for further academic development I have not kept any connections with previous professors. I could try to contact some of them who I had a good relationship with back then, but I believe the most I would get now is either a rejection or a run of the mill “This student was punctual and had good grades” type of letter.

In the past 6 years I have served in the army for a year and worked in the industry for the next 5. I believe I have a good chance of getting a good recommendation letter from past and current managers.

My question is this. Do I absolutely need recommendation letters from professors in order to get a place at a grad school program or is anybody who I have worked under a good reference?
How do admissions committees look upon recommendation letters by non academics?

I am not looking for a career in academia. I want to apply the knowledge I will get in the industry. (And I intend to put this in my motivation letter)

If it makes any difference I am interested in European universities

Basically, i have asked a professor if he would write a recommendation letter for me and he graciously agreed.

But for some reason, this recommendation letter needs to come back to me because it has to be in my complete application I need to send in the end. (The complete application is a hard copy that needs to be mailed)

Do I mail the professor a hard copy of the recommendation letter with a stamp so he can send it back after he fills it out? If I do this, do i ask him for his address? (its summer now)

Or do I send him an email with the soft copy of the form attached and ask him to print it out and mail it to me?


I am having a situation. I am applying to America at the end of the year. Now I have 3 LoR from my department, 1 of which is not so strong (the professor barely knows me).

Anyway, this is why I want another LoR. Days ago I contacted a professor from one of the universities I am going to apply, sending him my thesis and asking to work under him in some project he may assign. He turned me down, but wanted me to contact him when I apply (could be a good sign).

Obviously he did, since he barely knows me and I am even not sure to accept the admission from his university (if I luckily get accepted). The fact that he turned me down makes me think. Should I contact more professors? I mean if he accepts me, gives me some project and ultimately I do not go to his university, would it make him angry? And is the chance of I having a LoR from a famous professor in this way high?

This leads me to another option. I can go to my current university and strengthen my research with a professor there to get a stronger LoR. One drawback is that he is not as good as professors I may contact via email and he works in a different area, so basically I have to learn from scratch (my area and his are both algebra, though).

The most important question I want to ask in this post is that: what should I choose between two options?

I hope you guys can read all and answer to all the questions here, I would really appreciate it

I have just entered my final year of Undergraduate degree in Computer Science and engineering from a rather unknown/not-popular college in India and I want to get admittance in a PhD program in Computer Science. I’m thinking of applying for colleges in the USA and I’m worried that graduating from an unknown college will affect how universities will perceive my application and I regret my decision of joining this college in the first place. I still have one year before I apply. I want to know what I need to do to maximize my chances of admission. And any general suggestions you’d give for a fourth year student who is looking to get into research programs.

My name is Sushma, I am pursuing my medical degree from India. I am a doctor by profession and a musician by passion. My research interests are in integrating music and neurology. I have already completed an EEG based research project during third year of my medical course that focussed on analysing the effects of music on percieved stress and mind wandering among undergraduate medical students. I have acquired more than 300 EEG recordings during data acquisition.
I’m hoping to publish my work in elsevier. (manuscript is in review and I am the first author)

I have scored 94% and 92% in my 10th and 12th grade respectively and I am consistently scoring 66% in my med school. I also have some achievements in sports and other extra curricular activities. ( state level badminton player, regular speaker in theosophical society, won prizes in national level music competitions)

I still have one more year left for the completion of my course here.
At this stage, how can I up my game so that I become a potential PhD candidate and clinch a position in any good Ivy league school or any tier one university in the USA?
The options i have are,
1) Join a research lab here itself in India in institutes like IISc or NIMHANS to get recommendations from renowned professors
2) Attend summer courses in the USA
3) Take up another research project with the same group I have already worked with (I have sought collaboration with one of the leading EEG manufacturers)

Any advice on how I can improve my CV at this stage would be highly appreciated!

Thanks in advance 🙂