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I graduated from law school (which confers a bachelor's degree in my country) a few years ago.

I then switched to tech soon after (as a software engineer), and now I'm thinking about going back for a Master's degree in computer science or something similar. Most of the schools I'm looking at require three references, and I understand at least one (preferably more) should be from former professors, with a view to assessing your potential to perform academic work.

I have reached out to the tutors in my last two years of law school, but I'm not sure if they still remember me, and it's also an unrelated degree, so I might have a problem there.

After my career change, I was an instructor at a data science bootcamp for a while. A former student of mine from there later applied to a fairly highly ranked US university. He asked me to write a letter of recommendation for his application, which I did, and he was eventually accepted.

I know you should normally look for referees who were in a supervisory position, but I'm just wondering if I could actually ask this former student, if I can't get any other academic references.

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No, I would not recommend getting a recommendation from a former student.

You want recommenders who are familiar with you and are familiar with the requirements to do well in whatever you are applying for. In this case, professors who teach graduate students and who have taught you in the past will be able to make statements about how you compare to the students they see do well in graduate school. A former student can't do that: they don't teach graduate students and aren't familiar with what makes a graduate student successful.

For some positions involving teaching you might present past teaching reviews or testimonials from former students, but that's not the same as references for graduate school.

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  • If that former student has since gone on to a position with the experience to judge, in retrospect, your role as a teacher, perhaps. But it would have to be something like, "As a member of the Academy of Sciences, I look back to my undergraduate sociology tutor as a real inspiration"!
    – djs
    Jul 24, 2021 at 10:15

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