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I am applying for a second masters degree at the same institution I am currently at.

I have requested my current course teacher to write me an LoR (letter of reference). However, I am facing the problem that he may not know me that well. I didn't have many interactions with him during the online lectures or seminars this year because of the covid situation. The only way he learnt about me was through a mock exam which I got a score slightly above distinction (I am in the UK). So I think he may only be able to write a very general letter.

I also asked teachers from my bachelor's degree. I built a very strong relationship with them and did extremely well in their courses. So I am pretty sure that their letters will be filled with details.

I previously thought that my current teacher would not be willing to provide me with a letter because he didn't get back to me for more than two weeks. But now I am in a dilemma. On one hand, his endorsement would be more reliable and powerful in the sense that he is in the same institution. On the other, his letter will be quite general. So should I still ask him?

Thanks in advance for any solid advice!

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Generally speaking, the LOR that recites a lot of detail and describes a long relationship is more helpful. When I write an LOR, I assume the reader has no idea who I am or what my standards are. So, that's why I try to give a lot of objective information about my relationship with the student, so the reader can decide for themselves whether they agree the evidence supports my recommendation. I'm sometimes asked for LORs from students I don't know very well. Perhaps they're sophomore and they were in my section of a large intro CS class. I try my best but realistically those LORs will never be as helpful as the ones I write about a student I've known for several years, was in a small class where I really got to know their work, has been in my office a lot, worked for me as instructional aide for a class I taught, etc.

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  • Thank you so much for your advice, Ms Hamilton! Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 4:52
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If they have both already written the letter, submit both. It will not hurt and it may help.

Explanation: academics in the UK system believe that anything bad in a LoR can engender legal jeopardy for the letter writer. They are wrong: obviously one can be sued slander and libel, but one is asked to render a professional opinion on X's suitability, and as long as one refrains from using 4-letter words, one is in the clear. If anything, omitting something that could be construed as an early warning sign for a later crime can result in legal claims (example: X was disciplined for plagiarism; X does this again in his new job; they go after you for nondisclosure). Fortunately I have never had to write a LoR for a student wanting to join a bank or MI6 of whom I knew of serious moral failings.

(Also, schools always wanted to know if my former tutee was perhaps a perverted pedophile. I always wondered how they imagined I could have possibly discovered even if this were the case!)

Anyway: since academics are mortally afraid of saying anything negative at all in an LoR, these letters all tend to look alike. The red flags are only there by omission. The admissions tutor will quickly scan the letters for any such hidden clues and then toss them aside... pardon me, file them.

If your grades or extracurriculars or whatever sheds light on your suitability are good, then you stand a good chance of an offer. But if the admissions tutor still does not quite know what to make of you, they may have an informal chat with one or both of your LoR writers. These chats tend to be frank, informative, and completely off the record. In your case, it sounds like both of them think well of you, so no reason not to submit both.

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