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Similar to this question How to secure recommendations and apply for PhD after having worked outside of academia for two years? but more specifically if you've been out of school and self-employed for a while, what options do you have for letters of reference? And AFAIK you need two letters, so if answers could provide multiple potential options that would be ideal :)

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    Get letters from your clients, suppliers, or both.
    – user2768
    Feb 3, 2021 at 14:00
  • @user2768 Would that have as much pull as a letter from a professor for example? Feb 3, 2021 at 14:03
  • You don't have a professor to ask. Regardless, the answer would depend on the professor's relationship with the applicant.
    – user2768
    Feb 3, 2021 at 14:25
  • Apply to places which don't require recommendation letters.
    – user151413
    Feb 3, 2021 at 22:46
  • @user151413 Are there a lot of such places? Could you link some of the top institutions with no such requirement? Feb 3, 2021 at 22:48

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The source of the letters matters less than what they can convincingly say about your chances of success in the program you are applying to.

So choose referees who can write such letters. They might be clients, or managers, or former professors, or people you consulted professionally while self employed. People who know your work and your work ethic.

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  • Are letters about work ethics? "He is working very hard."
    – user151413
    Feb 3, 2021 at 22:46
  • @user151413 "Work ethic" might include "learns new subjects quickly", "asks and answers questions easily", "writes well" ... all valuable skills in grad school. independent of the discipline. Feb 3, 2021 at 22:51
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    True. It's just that I value letters most which come from someone who has worked with the applicant on a non-trivial scientific project (not even the case in all undergrad systems), as they can assess how good they are in research, which requires certain skills which are different from those needed e.g. in coursework. But I agree, any assessment has its value.
    – user151413
    Feb 3, 2021 at 22:53

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