The title is a bit long but let me explain. I am a final year undergraduate student and am currently applying for a PhD in my field. All the universities I am applying to require three letters of recommendation (LoR). My supervisor for my Bachelors Thesis is writing me one letter and a Professor with whom I did a summer internship is writing me the other, so in total I have two research supervisors writing me a letter each. Now for the third LoR I am a bit confused about whom to ask. Here are my options:

  1. Professor A: I got an average grade (my grade was 7, and 10 is the highest you can get) in his class but I have had a lot of interactions with him since that class. Basically when I was looking for research groups to apply to (in his field), he guided me a lot and recommended many groups and put me in touch with one of his colleagues. I also approached him when I wanted to learn some advanced topics and he gave me some papers to read, and we will be having discussions on them.
  2. Professor B: He is the faculty advisor of my class (as in he signs some of our official documents and things like that). I have done two courses with him, one of which I got a 9 grade (few people got a 9 or a 10 because the course was tough) and an 8 in the other. The first course had a project and my team was adjudged to have the best presentation in that class. I have also had some interactions with him but they were mostly unrelated to course material. He also did help me out a bit with figuring out how to apply to grad schools.
  3. Professor C: I did very well in her course (10) and also did a course project with her. But that course was around two years ago and I don't know if she remembers me because I haven't interacted with her since then.

I was initially inclined to ask Professor A since I have a good rapport with him but I don't know if I should ask him because I hadn't done very well in his course, so I don't know if he would write me a strong LoR.

What should I do?

5 Answers 5


You may be able to ask your two research supervisors for advice on this matter.

In any case, you can ask professors A,B,C if they would be willing to write you a STRONG letter. If you ask them to be brutally honest, you'll be able to gain some very useful information. This is a situation where you would rather they be brutally honest up front, to avoid a situation where someone kindly agrees but writes you a less-strong letter because that's all they can honestly do.

In general, grades are not everything, so it IS possible to get a good letter that highlights your strong points from a professor whose class you did not ace.

Ultimately, you need to seek more detailed knowledge from your professors for your specific situation.


Don't hesitate and ask to professor directly.


For US study, all of those three people seem like good choices for letter writers. In the case of the third person, make contact and remind them of who you are and what you did with them. A face to face visit is best as they are more likely to remember you. Tell them your plans and ask them if they remember you sufficiently well to write you a letter.

The first person seems like a winner as they have already tried to support you, no matter the grade.

You want people who can predict your success in grad study and beyond. The first person seems best (to me), but the others seem fine as long as they can honestly and sincerely make such a prediction.


As someone who has written several letters for graduate and professional school admissions, and heard internal conversations about this type of thing, I would recommend against asking Professor A. Faculty writing letters of support need to be in the best position possible to give strong (in the case of the U.S., in particular, very strong) statements of support, with clear and convincing examples. As in the case you mention there likely won't be anything like this, I recommend against asking this person. However, there might be other ways for Professor A to help you, for example by leveraging Professor A's network, if that is a possibility.


You sound as if you are in quite a good situation actually, in that the professor (a) is a normal human being and (b) doesn’t hate you. This does not always happen in academe!

Given that - ask your professor the question you are asking us!

“Given my history, and our history together, advise me: is there a letter you could reasonably write, both telling the truth and helping me to move forward to the next stage in my career?”

You may or may not get a letter out of this. But at the very least (from the story you have told us) you will get some good advice. Plus a better relationship which may have positive effects at some time in the future.

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