I am an undergraduate student at an American university and am applying for an Msc at LSE for the 2021-2022 school year. I need advice on a letter of recommendation. I already have one professor who is writing me a LOR, but am having trouble finding a second professor. Here are my options for the second LOR:

  1. A PhD student who taught a class on anthropology. She can write much more personally about my work, work ethic, analysis, and character since she knows me on a much more personal level. I'm applying to LSE's international migration program, and in her class, I wrote several essays on the topic (Partition of South Asia, identity formation in diaspora, etc.), so she can directly write about my work in this field. She agreed to write me a LOR, but encouraged me to first look for a Professor.

  2. The second option is a history professor. I got A-'s in both his classes, and he knows me fairly well on a personal level. But I don't think his LOR would be as strong as the PhD student's. I reached out to him and didn't heard back. I just sent him another email.

According to the LSE website, an academic reference is "tutors who have taught you at university" and "who know your work well, and who, preferably, can comment on subjects or skills relevant to the programme(s) you are applying for." I know LSE pays quite a bit of attention to personal character via LORs and personal statements, so I don't know if it would be more beneficial to have a professor who has more prestige and credibility, but who doesn't know me personally vs. a PhD student who has less prestige and credibility, but knows my personal character and work ethic much better.

Any advice would be appreciated. Especially those with experience with LSE admissions.


1 Answer 1


I think your potential writer (1) gave you good advice: look for a professor first. However, if they can write a strong letter for you then certainly it's better than nothing; your second choice may not actually be a choice if they never respond.

I think if you were submitting at least 3 letters of recommendation, it would be less of an issue for one of them to come from a non-professor, but with only two letters I would suggest you think hard about other options for the second letter. If two letters is only a minimum and you can submit a third, then I think including your option (1) as one of those would be totally fine.

It's important to recognize that recommendations for graduate school aren't primarily about your performance in an undergraduate class, they are about your potential as a graduate student. Professors are more likely to have experience teaching and mentoring graduate students, so they presumably have a better background to evaluate potential in that area.

I did write some recommendations as a graduate student for my undergraduate students, but I wrote them in concert with a professor who also signed the letter.

  • Thank you! This was really helpful!
    – Sana
    Sep 8, 2020 at 23:44
  • Professors are also more likely to know what to put in a reference letter. Assuming they've hired people, they will know what they would want to see in a letter (and what does not work in a reference letter).
    – Rob
    Sep 9, 2020 at 9:41

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