A master's program that I want to apply to is asking for two letters of recommendation. I can get one of them, because I am very close with a professor that I'm doing a research project for, and I'm doing a good job in it.

But the second letter might be a problem. Basically, I have other professors and instructors to choose from, but none of them know me as well as the professor mentioned above. In their classes, I did well, but I wasn't top of the class.

There is one lab instructor that I had, and I always did very well in his lab (I'm good with hands-on work), but I don't know if he remembers me. He would always give me a bunch of extra credit for the lab reports.

Another professor I was thinking of asking is a statistics professor. I'm thinking he might be willing because at the beginning of his class, I was struggling, and failed the first midterm, but I studied and improved greatly in the end. I finished that class with a 3.5.

So my question is, how can you ask for a recommendation letter from a professor that doesn't know you all that well? I've seen others do it, but it always seems like they are the students who either did very well in their classes, or who have a much closer relationship with the professor.

Also, I'm on a time limit, as the masters application is due in about one month.

Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

  • 1
    Well, it's better than nothing. Maybe talk to them a bit and let them know you a bit more.
    – xuq01
    Apr 9, 2018 at 4:33
  • I finished that class with a 3.5 --- For many people (including me), this means about as much as saying you finished with a 92B-hw. Plus, was this an elementary (high school level) descriptive statistics course, a calculus based statistics course, a measure theory based statistics course, etc.? However, this issue aside, I think the rest of your question provides sufficient context and is sufficiently detailed for the question you are asking. Apr 9, 2018 at 8:57

2 Answers 2


I think you have a couple of good options for the second recommendation letter:

  1. Ask the statistics professor to write the recommendation letter. Struggling in the beginning, but overcoming the difficulties can be a good point in his recommendation letter if he perceived that situation the same way. If you ask him over the e-mail, please, give him enough information to connect yourself with a student he had. You don't want to write his recommendation letter, but want to give/remind him of certain facts (term, grade, progress, course contents, what you learned). Meeting in person will be probably even better, but be prepared to introduce yourself with some story and keep a piece of paper with the factual information you wish he uses in the recommendation letter. The professor will either decline (if he doesn't feel comfortable) or will become one of your references.
  2. Ask the lab instructor. And follow the same procedure. The recommendation letter from him might feature your hands-on skills and ability to analyze the experiments, which is also valuable.
  3. Find somebody outside of academic circles. It would be nice if you worked and volunteered somewhere and your manager is able to recommend you based on some other set of skills.

Again, none of those are ideal references, but usually, for a Master's program, people don't have reference letters that are from perfect sources. And your potential ones are certainly not bad at all. Especially, if they decide to write a good recommendation letter.

  • I was also planning to ask in person. I thought it would be more effective and more polite as well. Perhaps they do remember my face. In regards to other sources from work, would it matter if my work has nothing to do with my major, electrical engineering? I only have had part-time jobs, but none of them are engineering related.
    – bf109k4
    Apr 9, 2018 at 8:45
  • 1
    For other sources, it depends on what they can write about you. An excellent recommendation letter from a completely non-engineering job would be better than a dry paragraph from a professor that barely knows you (provided that at least 1 recommendation letter is from academic circles) Apr 9, 2018 at 12:44

First, ask him/her if they feel confident they can write a positive letter. If they can’t, it’s usually apparent.

Next, consider how you would write a letter for someone you have a positive impression of but don’t know that well. You’d want some help. To do that, create a ‘packet’ of objective evidence - some papers you’ve written, synopsis of projects, a statement of accomplishments, and career goals. The willing writer will draw from that in constructing your letter.

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